Far from extinguished, Vicki’s light shines on and on
Noel Hamiel
The Daily Republic - 08/19/2006

It was probably the longest community service list ever to appear in The Daily Republic.

There was hardly any major organization to which Vicki Clarke had not contributed during her 22 years in Mitchell.

And it should be noted, her contributions were not of the résumé-building sort, included as window dressing for some future reference to show how active and involved she was.

No, Vicki didn’t do things for show, but her ability always showcased the organization, lifting it above its earlier station.

Just reading the lengthy roster of her activities made most of us shake our heads in sheer wonder. How could a person do so much? And then, part B of the same question: How could she do it so well?

The answer is that she was an amazingly talented woman who used those gifts to the fullest ability.

She was the whirlwind of Mitchell and few needs escaped her energized swath, which cut across our community with stunning regularity. Her leadership and organizational strengths were spoken of at length this week, and not just at the Monday night memorial service or the Tuesday funeral.

People on the street everywhere were talking about Vicki, the numbing news of her death, the large hole left in our community, the pain her family was forced to absorb.

What has been said is all true. No exaggerations. I observed her from a distance during her service on the school board, her outrageously funny performance as the Madrigal cook, and far too many other instances to list here. I witnessed her from closer range when we served together.

And yet, despite the great length and breadth of her community service — unmatched in my short 13 years of watching people in Mitchell — her greatest contribution was what she gave, and received, at hearth and home.

Vicki and John’s children, Megan and Steve, are a living and breathing testimony to a household that functioned as homes are supposed to function.

It’s not as though I joined the Clarkes for breakfast each morning — the one meal they always tried to share — but the proof is what the rest of the family said and felt on her passing, and frankly, how they’ve turned out as young adults.

Vicki often would keep me abreast of Megan’s progress as a journalist, knowing I was interested in what aspect she was pursuing, and where she was going. She is at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, one of the nation’s major newspapers. Earlier this year, she came to our office and visited with our newsroom about data-based reporting and her life at a metro newspaper.

At the memorial service, Megan said her mother was the family’s rock.

“She died happy,” Megan said, showing a poise that belied her 25 years and the pain she felt. “With no animosity toward anyone and none toward her. She was an angel on earth. She believed in equality and kindness and she told us, ‘You are not better than anyone, and no one is better than you. ’ ”

As Megan was speaking, I could not help but notice the extraordinarily beautiful stained glass window above and behind her at the First United Methodist Church.

It depicted Jesus, holding a lamb in the crook of his right arm, his staff in his left, and surrounded by the rest of the flock. As Megan continued, I thought of Vicki as that lamb who was gathered up and surely is somewhere in heaven, if anyone is. And as Megan continued to speak, I noted the banner immediately to the right of the window, which said: “I have called you by name, Vicki.”

Life is alternately unpredictable, wonderful, harsh, and happy.

Vicki Clarke was one of those exceptional human beings whose light brightened our days and our lives, and she would be the first to say that her passing should not be mourned for long.

Her light continues, and others have light to share.

Life goes on.


Opinion: Clarke filled many roles for Mitchell, its organizations
Joe Graves, Mitchell Superintendent
none - 08/22/2006

This time of year, when the locusts howl and the first evening hints come that perhaps the summer clime cannot really last forever, I often look to the moon.

It was at this time of year in my childhood when my oldest living brother — 11 years my senior — and I would sometimes end the day by sitting on the cement stoop in front of our house, looking for the man in the moon. No matter what my brother said or did or drew or described, I never could see him. I still can’t. I always assumed I had some sort of deficiency of the imagination that prevented my seeing what everyone else could.

It wasn’t until many moons later, when I began to ask my own children to describe the man in the moon to me, that I began to notice that their descriptions didn’t quite jive. Some saw a face head-on, some saw a person in profile. Some saw a somber lunar dweller while others saw a smiling one. Since then, I have asked many others and noticed the same thing. When it comes to the man in the moon, people seem bound by what others have told them to see and what their own experiences and personalities dictate or at least suggest. I have often thought that the same can be said of how we view people much closer to us.

We each have our own perspective, very real to us but always incomplete. A child sees a man as a father and protector. A wife sees the same man as a friend and lover. An old man sees a son and a young man. A competitor sees an underhanded enemy while a co-worker sees a faithful colleague. To our grandfather, we shall ever be young; to our grandchild, we have always been old. It’s not that there isn’t an objective reality; it’s just that we can’t usually see the sum of a person from our particular perspective.

My perspective on Vicki Clarke began before I even came to Mitchell. I had applied to be superintendent here and I began to receive professional-looking, polished documents describing the district and selling its considerable attributes. The interview process was in-depth, inclusive of literally scores of people, mentally challenging, and socially invigorating. I was so impressed by the whole examination that, even before it had concluded, I asked what search firm Mitchell had utilized as they were obviously at the top of their game, only to be told that they hadn’t used a search firm. They had used Vicki Clarke, on a shoestring budget, in her spare time.

While I cannot attest to the wisdom of the final selection, I can attest to the quality of the procedure. Since that time, I can think of no greater friend to education in Mitchell than Vicki Clarke. Perhaps my earliest disappointment in Mitchell was the discovery that Vicki was leaving the board at my very first board meeting here on July 10, 2000.

She had completed a three-year term, with two years as vice president, and was ready for another challenge. One of those challenges was the founding of the Mitchell Community Scholarship Fund. With a handful of others, she set its goal: awarding a scholarship to every graduate of the Mitchell community who was going on for additional education. Vicki instantaneously joined its board of directors, personally, with her husband, endowed a scholarship in perpetuity, and quite literally drove the organization through sheer enthusiasm to meets its goals for five straight years, each year increasing the scholarship amounts and the number of scholarships awarded.

Over the last six years, I don’t remember a school fundraiser Vicki didn’t contribute to or a school cause that Vicki didn’t support, which one might find praiseworthy but not entirely surprising. After all, Vicki was once an educator and one never gets quite all of the chalk dust out of one’s blood. Her educational involvements and giving were only what I saw. Others had their own perspectives.

The Chamber of Commerce saw a local leader willing to push for and contribute to economic and community development in Mitchell. Her church saw a faithful adherent. The needy saw a leader of the United Way who spent her time making sure their needs were not overlooked.

Dakota Wesleyan University and Avera Queen of Peace Hospital saw an advocate, a board member, someone who believed in their goals and worked to make them happen. The arts community saw a committed patron. All these different perspectives came stunningly to light — to me at least — only after her death when the e-mails flew and the spoken memories of a life well-lived were shared. Then it was that each side of Vicki Clarke’s life was summarized by so many people, all of whom had a piece of the puzzle, a single angle, a perspective seen through a different prism. They had seen a generous contributor or a powerful advocate, a community cheerleader or an agent of change, a worker or a leader, an unstoppable force or an immovable object.

But just as we all see the man in the moon differently but still recognize him as the man in the moon, so was there a distinctly common thread as I listened to people talk about “their” Vicki Clarke.

Though all saw her from their own perspective, their own interests, they all used the same word to describe her in the end. Vicki Clarke was a friend.