MADISON, Wis. -

Deanna Loewenhagen has been clowning around for decades.

"I've been clowning for many years," she said. "Probably got wigs older than you."

The Waunakee woman, who plays "Apple Annie," a clown who appears at birthday parties, church gatherings and other special occasions, said she loves entertaining people.

"I have birthday parties for 70-year-old women, men. I have birthday parties for 1-year-olds," Loewenhagen said. "My mission is to entertain people, have them forget their daily woes, maybe laugh and remember me and have a good time."

But she said the recent trend of "creepy clown" sightings sweeping the internet and the nation have her and other professional clowns concerned.

"Of course, any negative news is bad news for a professional performing clown like myself," she said. "There are clowns in the Madison area that make their full-time living as clowns, and when we get negative information about clowns or images about clowns, their business goes down."

Loewenhagen said the difference between professional clowns such as Apple Annie and "scary clowns" are that she's here to entertain, rather than scare, children.

"I explain that it's a creepy person in a clown suit, not a professional performing clown," she said. "There is a difference."

Loewenhagen said she never goes out in costume on Halloween and rarely even performs as Apple Annie at night.

"If (people) are afraid of me, I notice that right away and I have a procedure," Loewenhagen said. "I tell the parent, 'Don't push them at me or anything like that,' and they observe me and by the time I get the balloons they're up there wanting their balloon just as much."

Loewenhagen said despite the negative attention directed towards clowns, she, like her red-nosed Apple Annie character, is trying to stay positive.

"We're going to stay strong," she said. "I know we are."

Locally, school districts and police departments in Madison, Beloit, Sun Prairie, Verona and Stoughton have reported concerns over "scary clown" sightings and reports. No area police departments have verified the claims.

The Verona Area School District sent a letter home to parents and students about the "clown frenzy," saying it wanted to "communicate with families about what the fad is and what we are doing to address it."

"VASD administrators will be sharing with their staff, who will also share with your child(ren), the importance of reporting any suspicious activity they may hear of, or see, to their teacher, other staff and parents, no matter if they are in the classroom, out on recess, or on their bus ride or walk home," the letter said. "We also want students to understand that partaking in what seems like a fun hoax can lead to serious consequences."