PENDLETON - At 95, A. O. "Monk" Carden is the oldest living clown to have participated in the Pendleton Round-Up.
And he's happy to tell you about it. Last month he donned is clown face and garb to regale his fellow residents at Sunridge Retirement Community in Pendleton.
He began his clowning career as a comedy actor with George Moens as his partner while still in high school. They first performed at the Round-Up in 1928, at the request of Henry Collins, then Round-Up president.
Photographs of their clown routines are pictured in "Fearless Funnymen: A History of the Rodeo Clown," by Gail Hughbanks Woerner, published in 1993. Carden is one of the oldest living members of the Rodeo Clown Association and attended many of the group's annual conventions.,
Carden has deep roots in the Pendleton area. His father, Alfred Overton Carden, was just 7 in 1878 when his family moved from Wisconsin to Pendleton. Aura Goodwin, sister of Carden's grandmother, Andulusia Morris (Mrs. Russell Carden), was the wife of Moses Goodwin, founder of Pendleton. Carden's mother, Nancy, was a member of the A.K. Finley family that homesteaded land southeast of Helix.
He brushed shoulders with rodeo greats early on as well. Carden's uncle, Lloyd Finley, was married to Dena, a sister of the well-known rodeo star and Round-Up favorite Yakima Canutt.
Carden began school in Echo after his father purchased The Echo News. He recalls Echo as a thriving community. His family lived over the drug store in an apartment. Nearby was the Henrietta Flour mill and the4 Liesegang family meat market.
He earned his nickname while in the Boy Scouts. While camped at Emigrant Springs, Carden climbed a tree and tossed pine cones at everyone who passed below.
After selling the Echo newspaper, Carden's father moved the family to Pendleton, where he worked for the East Oregonian. Carden played football and basketball for Pendleton High School, graduating in 1928. He went on to play football at Eastern Oregon College in La Grande and met his future wife there. He married Vivian Hansen in 1935.
Carden worked at The East Oregonian as advertising manager until World War II, when he enlisted in the Navy. He served as a radar school instructor in Texas.
Returning to Pendleton after the war, he became advertising manager for Pendleton Grain Growers and was active in community service, including stints as president of the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Cowboys. He was presented the Cowboys' "Golden Nugget" award in 1952, the year he also served on the Round-Up board as director of publicity.
He moved to Portland in1953 to become manager of the National Hospital Association, and was soon a member of the Portland Rose Festival board of directors.
"When they (the Rose Festival Board members) found out I handled the publicity for the Pendleton Round-Up and brought in television coverage, they put me on the board in order to figure out how to get television coverage for the Rose Festival," Carden recalled.
After working for a time as advertising manager for a department store in Hawaii, then back in Portland again, Carden returned to Pendleton in 1974 and never left. He worked at Pendleton Grain Growers until his retirement.