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"The Clark Ewing Saga"

by Greg McKee

 

"Stories That Define"

 

Any celebration of Clark Ewing’s life would be incomplete without a few anecdotes  concerning his days with us. Here are some favorites:

The Creation of Sam McGhee—at an ACA convention---Clark served as chairman of the American Camping Association Regional Convention in 1976, in Dearborn, Michigan. The opening ceremony featured a speech by G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, Michigan’s governor at the time.  Williams was to speak for 25 minutes, and then turn to proceedings over to an "Up With People" singing ensemble. Governor Williams spoke for SEVEN minutes, then headed off the stage. There was no way to get the next act ready that quickly. Clark had to fill in for ten minutes, somehow. I was sitting with Bill Hammerman, a renowned educator who was the key resource for an Outdoor Education consultation. I saw this enlightened look came over Clark’s face at the podium, and I KNEW what was about to happen. “Bill, watch this—he’s going to recite Sam McGhee,” I exclaimed. Clark was a master at reciting the Robert Service classic—and now, in front of 750 assembled attendees, Clark shared in his inimitable fashion, “Sam McGhee,” to a rousing ovation. It was typical of Clark taking a tough situation and making it into a  program highlight.

Clark’s reputation as a pilot—Clark loved taking people up over Stony Lake in one of his planes. He also enjoyed flying low and “buzzing” the South Center Swim tower. One weekday afternoon, Clark offered to take two teachers to go flying. “But I’m afraid of heights”, one teacher declared. Group Camp director Tim Millbern piped in, “That won’t be a problem.” Tim also received Clark’s support after his move to Flat Rock Camp, run by the Indianapolis YMCA. It was Tim’s first summer at Flat Rock, and the staff was less than thrilled with his standards. Tim finally called a staff meeting at the end of the middle session.He gave staff the option—follow these guidelines, or leave Camp. Well, 80% of the staff packed their bags and left, leaving Tim woefully short staffed for the upcoming session—slated to begin in 48 hours. He called Clark, who sent five Storer staff to Flat Rock for the Sunday check-in. 

Working a Room---Clark had the rare ability to enter a gathering—whether in Toledo or at Camp—and connect in some meaningful way with each person in the room. His humor - "Let me introduce you to my first wife Marilyn" -, spirit, and genuine warmth were a hallmark of his. He made people feel welcome and important.

Word Carpentry---Clark worked hard at being an effective writer, using a style made famous by the Kiplinger letters—short sentences, minimal verbiage, conversational. He also expected it from his staff. I would turn in copy for his review, and have it returned with more red pencil correction than copy.  I write this thinking—yikes, how would Clark have edited this? He was a master writing instructor.

My last visit—One of my great blessings in recent years centered upon my pilgrimages to Toledo, Ann Arbor, and Camp. These took place at celebrations at Camp, but included yearly sojourns to Saline to visit Clark and Marilyn. These visits included stories, lectures from Clark on my diet (which have helped!),and observations on American society---all punctuated with Clark’s unfailing humor and warmth.

My last visit took place on December 29, 2018. My friend Bob Faulkner, a Storer alum whose family came from Toledo, wanted to reconnect with Clark, and made the trek to Saline with me. We spent a wonderful fours hours with Clark and Marilyn. Clark discovered that Bob’s family attended Trinity Church downtown (where Clark served as a choirboy), and the stories and connections just flowed. Clark recounted stories of meeting Marilyn, of growing up in Toledo, and so much more. His stories were interrupted by phone calls from the Ewing clan, wishing Clark and Marilyn happy holidays. These calls came from California, Ohio, and Ann Arbor. These calls were full of love, spirit, and fun, confirming Clark’s role as the venerable patriarch of the family. His unwavering love and support for Marilyn was evident –and inspiring. His ability to connect with people, to make the other person fell special, had not diminished one bit for this legend. I can only hope to be some of what he was –even at 92! He lived and loved fully to the end…

 

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