Shannon celebrates 50 years with a joke of course

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Nina Hodgson helps Mark Shannon prepare his birthday jokes at Victoria Park in Petrolia

Cathy Dobson/Special to The Independent

Just call him Mr. Popularity.

Petrolia’s Mark Shannon is recognized almost everywhere he goes for the written jokes he likes to hand out and the smiles he leaves behind.

“Everybody knows Mark,” says long time friend and neighbour Nina Hodgson.  
“Every day he likes to walk uptown, go over to the park, and stop at the Scotiabank or the farmer’s market. He finds people he knows and he hands them his jokes.

“They smile, sometimes share a joke of their own and go on their way,” she said. “He’s a happy guy and he loves to make others smile and bring them joy.”

Mark was born with a developmental disability that makes communicating a challenge, says his sister Mary Jo Shannon.

He attended LCCVI in the special needs program until he was 21. When he graduated, he continued to visit the school several times a week to help take attendance, said Mary Jo.

“He’d go classroom to classroom in the morning and that’s where the jokes started,” she said.  

“He’d give the weather forecast and a few jokes to make everyone laugh.
“They loved it and called him The Weatherman.”

For more than 20 years, Mark helped with attendance and made lots of friends at the high school. But about five years ago, the tradition ended when attendance-taking went electronic and he wasn’t needed anymore.

When he couldn’t take them to LCCVI anymore, Mark took his jokes to the community.
“He knows so many people now that he can’t go anywhere without someone saying hello,” said Mary Jo.

When Nina Hodgson moved in around the corner from Mark’s house in 2011, she was immediately drawn to his sunny disposition and began helping him out.

She often takes him on errands or helps him write out the best jokes he finds in paperback joke books.
“Befriending Mark came naturally,” Nina said. “He’s like a brother to me and I believe it takes a village to support a guy like Mark.

“But Mark is supporting others, too. My kids love him. He’s part of the neighbourhood and part of the community.”

Mary Jo Shannon said she is Mark’s only close relative but lives in Sarnia and doesn’t drive.  

“I’m really glad Nina and Mark are friends and he knows he can go to her if he needs something,” she said. 

The pandemic has caused numerous challenges for Mark since he hasn’t been able to follow his routine and do the things he likes such as bowling and going to the library.
But he’s still been uptown most days to hand out his one-liners and see some friendly smiles.
Tuesday, July 13 was Mark’s 50th birthday and Nina has helped him make plans to share it with the community. 

She organized an open house in Victoria Park with snacks and, of course, jokes for all. And there was a neighbourhood barbecue in honour of Mark.

And of course, there is even a joke to go with that. “What do you call a primate hosting a barbecue?”
ANSWER: “A g’rilla!”