Kent: Today is July 16, 2002. This is Judith Kent speaking from the Flagler County Public Library. Joining me today is Mary Ann Clark.
Kent: First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to share some of your memories with us. Let’s begin at the beginning. You say that you grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania. What were some of your earliest childhood memories?
Clark: Well, we lived on a farm. Not a farm that… My father didn’t farm, but it was a farm. It was about a hundred acres or so. I remember― well, a big memory was a time when I was maybe ten years old, sitting out on the steps on the front porch just after school was out. I was just sitting there thinking, “What am I going to do?” realizing that I had this whole summer. [It was a beautiful June day, blue sky and sun shining. Perhaps it was one of those times when one feels that all is perfect! Editorial comment, M. A. Clark]
Clark: Yes, yes. [laughter] I wasn’t sure that… I enjoyed it. Well I knew I was going to read which I did. I read a lot. I just had my brother, there are two of us and we didn’t have people nearby. We didn’t have playmates. We did just a lot of just family kinds of things. I can’t think of anything really except that we did live outside of town.
Kent: Was it a working farm?
Clark: No, it wasn’t. It was just in the country outside of Belle Vernon. We did have some horses which someone boarded and we did have cows. This was when I was small (during the Depression). My mother made butter; that’s how I learned to like buttermilk. She sold the butter. So we had cows and the cows always had to be milked. When my family went someplace we had to be home in time for the cows to be milked. We used to get annoyed with that. Let’s see. Of course during the winters back then they didn’t plow really well. We lived sort of on a slope; actually it was a pretty steep hill to get up there. The farm itself was on a ridge, it was called the ridge road, that’s where our farm was near. In the winter, frequently someone would have to be shoveling and couldn’t get up the driveway. That was always sort of fun, I guess. You know, sled riding and…
Kent: Did you and your brother help out with that kind of thing?
Clark: With the cows? No, No. We were still young then, although I did learn how to milk a cow, but it was not going to be my occupation.
Kent: That’s not on your resume?
Clark: No, that was just one of those things that my mother did.
Kent: Tell me more about your family.
Clark: Well, let’s see. My mother was a teacher. She was a teacher before she was married. Then after my brother and I got to be in school she went back to school. She just had a normal school degree, which I don’t know if you are familiar with. So she went back and got some more credits so that she could teach. She was an elementary school teacher. My father was just a… Actually he did work as a welder for years and then when World War II came along he enlisted. He was in the Army, he worked up to sergeant. He was in the Army for twenty years. He retired in 1962. That’s when my mother retired also (from teaching). We didn’t travel with him. We were at home and he was off doing his Army thing. I have a younger brother. We are not really, really close but we were close at that time because it was just the two of us. He now lives in Georgia. He went into the Army when he finished high school. This was right at the end of the war (1947) and he applied to go to college and he didn’t hear so he just decided to enlist, and he did. He was also in the Army for twenty years. He retired from the Army and lives in Georgia now. As a matter of fact, I’m going up to see him tomorrow. That’s it; there were just the two of us.
Kent: I was going to ask you if the Depression impacted your family, I guess it did.
Clark: Yes, it did actually. We really didn’t have that much money but we did have our home. It was my father’s home actually, it was a family farm. I remember as a kid eating “mush and milk” that was what we had. Let’s see, what else? Mother would make milk or make butter and sold both.. So we were not really, really poor, but we didn’t have a lot of money.
Kent: Did you have a kitchen garden?
Clark: Yes, mother always had a big garden. We helped with that. One year we had turkeys. We had two, they were Gerry and Geraldine. Gerry was an utterly… Oh, he would flap his wings and he was really big. I was scared of him, actually. I don’t remember, but I must have been happy when he was killed for Thanksgiving. We had some dogs, German shepherds. That’s what my dad liked. We were very fond of them. No cats, because I guess nobody liked cats. Let’s see, what else about the Depression? That’s all that I can think of right at this moment.
Kent: If you had to say what the “family values” were in your family, what were you taught about what was right and wrong and important?
Clark: Well, education was important, and doing the right thing. We were not a particularly religious family. We did go to church on occasion, but my father was not into organized religion. I guess those were the important things.
Clark: Family things. Of course we were very close to my mother’s family who lived not far away. My grandparents were the Italian side; there was just at that time my grandmother. As a matter of fact, during the war we closed up the house and moved and stayed in this little town named Van Meter. We stayed there with my grandmother and my Aunt Rose, whose husband was also in the service.
Kent: So family takes care of family?
Clark: Yes, that was it.
Kent: What do you remember about school?
Clark: Well, I always liked school. When I was ready to start first grade I had to have… I don’t know, it was something that was in my groin. I had to have a little operation I guess. So I got started late and as soon as I got to school I got measles and took it home. Of course then they had quarantine and so my brother would get it and we were stuck. I think that my first year of school we had measles, mumps, whooping cough and scarlet fever. So I really was probably only is school maybe for six months of the first year. But fortunately, my first grade teacher was a friend of my mother’s (Miss Morris, a lovely woman) and she sent all my work home. Of course my Mother had been a teacher and she kept me going.
Kent: So you were home schooled.
Clark: I was home schooled for my first year, right.
Kent: It seemed to work.
Clark: Yes, I think so.
Kent: Was there something that you particularly excelled in?
Clark: Well, let’s see. I was good in English and I liked history. I was a pretty good student. Actually, I could memorize things; I guess that was part of it. When I graduated I was third in the class. Of course it was during the War. We had ninety students in our graduating class, and maybe six boys. The rest had all joined the Army, so we had a very small graduating class. But we did all the things. We had Tri Hi Y for me. I liked school, I really did.
Kent: So you were very aware of the War because of your father and the boys your age.
Clark: Yes, and of course rationing. I remember that we had… Well my mother, having to go to school, she had I guess it was a “B” [rationing category] where you got a little more gas. Of course you couldn’t get tires. Staying at my grandmother’s they had a store there. So we were fortunate in the fact that we always had enough meat and sugar and those kinds of things, so we were lucky in that.
Kent: Was there a lot of anxiety associated with your father being in service? Was he overseas?
Clark: Yes, he participated in D-Day. He was D-Day minus ten minutes. So he was right in there.
Kent: In the thick of it.
Clark: Oh yes. We listened to the radio and were concerned about what was going on. He did very well up until he was injured in the Hurtgen Forest which was right before the War ended. As a matter of fact it was on Christmas Eve that my mother got the message that he had been wounded. [Tearing] I’m sorry.
Kent: Oh my, that was one to remember.
Kent: Let’s pause for just a minute.[Short break in recording]
Kent: OK, you were saying that his injuries while serious were not life-threatening.
Clark: No, no. I don’t know if he was shot through the front or the back, but it went through his chest and out his arm. It was serious enough. He was hospitalized, of course, but he did come home (I’m not really sure about when). He was home and then he went back and then before the War was over he was shipped out to the South Pacific. He was there when the war ended.
Kent: Oh really? Did he see action there?
Clark: I don’t think so. I don’t recall. He stayed, obviously in the Army afterwards and he had a tour in Alaska a couple of times in Turkey and Korea and some other places that he enjoyed very much.
Kent: He got to see the world!
Clark: Yes, he did really.
Kent: Good for him.
Clark: Really, right.
Kent: So as high school ended you had to make some career choices.
Clark: Yes. I knew I was going to college, it was just [a question of] what I was going to study. Actually my Aunt Rose was a business teacher. I was thinking about this last night and I thought I would mention it. You may not be aware of [the fact that] when a woman who was a teacher got married (this was in Pennsylvania) you had to quit teaching.
Kent: Oh my.
Clark: So when she and my Uncle Fred… I guess they went to the World’s Fair in 1939 in New York and got married secretly. She didn’t tell anybody until… well, probably the family knew. We kids didn’t know because we would have been telling everybody. It was a secret until (and this was in Pennsylvania) apparently they passed a law or something or other so that teachers could be married and still work. When I think about that I can’t believe it, but it was so. Anyhow, she was a business a teacher and I decided that I would like to be one too. She wanted me to go to Indiana State College but I wanted to go to Carnegie Tech, so that’s where I went. A friend of mine (we had started first grade together) she was going there, so that is where we wound up, at Carnegie Tech. I was in the Business Studies Department with the Teacher Training Option. I learned short hand and typing and all those things, plus a lot of academic subjects.
I met my husband there and we got married between my sophomore and junior years. So, I did finish my junior year and then I was pregnant. They wanted me to stay in school, but I just decided that I wouldn’t, which I was sorry for later. So, I did quit school and had three children. I got active in Rosedale Junior Woman’s Club and was president of the local Junior Woman’s Club. I went to a convention and I heard this woman talking about education. She said that you should go back to school, and so I did. It was a family venture, my husband and three kids all worked hard to get mother through school.
Kent: Team work again.
Kent: So you earned your degree.
Clark: Yes, I earned my degree. My first job was a… I taught office machines at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. When I interviewed for the job I told them I didn’t know anything about sign language or whatever. I was assured (and it turned out that they were right) that I would be able to communicate with the kids. There were always a couple who had some hearing. Most of them were pretty intelligent kids and …
Kent: One could interpret for another?
Clark: Yes, one could interpret for the other and Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf was also… You know they have some schools that rely on signing and some who have a mixed kind of thing where they are trying to learn to speak. They were sort of a combination of using both of those methods. So it worked out. I taught there for three years and then my husband took a new job and we were transferred and lived in Connecticut for three years. I did substitute [teaching]there. That was where I got my first interest in working… I was [also a school] volunteer and I worked in the school library. I discovered that I really liked it. I was so sorry that I hadn’t done this in college because Carnegie at that time had a great Library School, which they no longer have. Oh well, who knew?
Kent: The “road not taken?”
Clark: The “road not taken” definitely. Then let’s see, where were we? Connecticut. Then we were in Cincinnati. That was where Colerain High School was where I taught for two years. Then my husband was transferred again and we were in Memphis for about nine months or so. Then we moved to Crystal Lake, Illinois and I substituted there. They were having (as all schools do) a money crunch and they were not hiring anybody. So I was bored, I was used to really doing things. I decided, “Well, I’ll see if I can do what I’ve been teaching.” So I took a job as a secretary at Oak Industries, which was the big company there at the time. No longer, but at that time. So I worked as an Executive Secretary for ten years.
Kent: Was that better remunerated that teaching job?
Clark: Not really, no I don’t think so.
Clark: Yes, I would say comparable. When you think that when I started teaching my salary was $6,000 a year. Dr. Craig, (this was at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf) did not believe… You were only paid for those nine months that you taught, not like it is today when they spread it over twelve months so you have a salary. He felt that if you couldn’t manage your money that was too bad. You were only paid for the time that you were working, which was fortunately… [laughing]
Kent: You could manage your money.
Clark: Well, if my husband hadn’t been working… My salary was just supplemental, obviously.
Kent: Which did you enjoy more, the executive secretary or the teaching?
Clark: I enjoyed both. I enjoyed teaching. [laughs] The only thing is sometimes in this area (the Business Studies area) you always have some classes like Business Math which is for kids who are not going to go to college. This is where you get all the discipline problems. Those were the classes that I didn’t like. In the shorthand classes the kids were mostly… You know, shorthand today, nobody uses it. It is a shame because it is really great. They don’t teach it any more. It is great, it is like a language that you have to learn all of the brief forms. It is a hard subject. I enjoyed both of them really.
Kent: All the while you were juggling your role as wife and mother. Was that difficult?
Clark: Well, I seemed to get things organized. Of course keeping the house clean and doing all these things it sometimes got a little hairy, but I did manage that. Actually, as I was working as a secretary you don’t have home work as you do when you are a teacher. There are always papers and always…
Kent: Lesson plans?
Clark: Lesson plans. When people say what a snap job it is being a teacher, it’s not really. You know that. So when I was being a secretary I had more free time.
Kent: Let’s take a break here. [reverses audiotape]
Kent: Let’s think now about when you were considering retirement or relocation.
Clark: Well, we had (in about 1979) come down to visit my husband’s father who lived in St. Petersburg [Florida]. On the way down we stopped in St. Augustine. Then on the way to St. Petersburg we came down through Flagler and across and we thought, “Gee!” We were really impressed with Flagler Beach. So when we were coming home my husband said, “Why don’t we drive back up through there and just look for a lot?” So we did. We bought a lot, but it had strings on it. This guy was going to build a house on “spec”, [speculation] so we said, “OK, we’ll buy it; build it for us.” He did and we rented it for a couple of years. Then in 1982 my husband decided that he wanted to retire and so we just, “lock stock and barrel”, we came down here. We didn’t know if we were going to like it or not, but here we were with everything. We moved into our little house there in Flagler Beach.
Kent: What was your first impression of Flagler Beach?
Clark: I liked it. I like the ocean; I am very fond of the ocean. We had lived in a lot of places and I knew that I would be OK there because I always was able to make friends and adjust myself to make myself happy where I was. I knew that I would be able to do that; and I did. I was just going to be sort of a beach bum, but after we had been here about six months I woke up one morning and I thought, “You know, the only thing that I get excited about is when the paper is going to come in the morning! That’s stupid.”
Kent: That’s a bad sign.
Clark: Yes it was; I was getting bored. My next door neighbor invited me to join the Flagler Woman’s Club and I said at first, “No, I don’t want to be involved in anything.” I had been involved in a lot of things in Crystal Lake.
I didn’t mention that; it is something I am very proud of. I am a Professional Secretary, a Certified Professional Secretary. I did this in 1976. It is a two day examination, just like a Certified Public Accountant [exam]. I passed it in one sitting; I was very proud of that, it doesn’t happen all the time. We had a Professional Secretary’s organization in the place where I worked and with some people from some of the other businesses around, so I was the president of that. I was involved in a couple of other things, as much as I could [be] when I was working.
So, I did join the [Flagler] Woman’s Club. This was in 1983 and got involved and worked in the Art Show, doing this, doing that. Then, in 1985 I became the President of the club. I was President for two years. That is when I started my recycling program. As soon as I was installed as President the air conditioning went “ka-boom”. It seemed like everything was falling apart and we needed money, so I …
Kent: This is in the club?
Clark: Yes, we have a clubhouse over there [in Flagler Beach] , which I’m sure you are aware of. This was the clubhouse where the air conditioning went and there wasn’t a whole bunch of money to take care of it. I had seen the recycling program in Crystal Lake, and I thought that we could probably do that here. We would be doing something for the community and making some money also. Things [newspapers and aluminum cans] were selling for a lot more then than they are now. So I started the recycling program. We had one day, the last Friday of the month people brought their newspapers and their cans. We got some of the local [car dealers] like Tom Gibbs and the Chrysler place and the Ford place and they would lend us a truck. We would truck these things, well not I, but we had some husbands of club members and friends who were interested in doing this. So we started that; it started out very slowly but it got more and more popular and we actually made quite a lot of money for the Woman’s Club doing this. I did it actually up until April of this year when the Woman’s Club decided that they didn’t want this. We had one of those containers and they decided they would rather have their back yard with gravel and more parking places. So it is done.
Kent: So the County has taken over.
Clark: Yes, the County had started several years ago, but we still had people who brought their newspapers to us.
Kent: But in the beginning it served a real purpose.
Clark: Oh, definitely. Doing this was probably helpful in the County getting their’s started. When I got here the Lions had one going, which they still have on the last Saturday of the month. It was quite successful; I am very proud of it.
Kent: Was their anything else that you found particularly lacking compared with communities where you had lived in the past?
Clark: In Flagler Beach?
Kent: Or the County.
Clark: Well, there were no department stores nearby even in ’82. I guess that back in the ‘70’s it was even worse. We did have that Seaside Market in Flagler Beach. Even at that time there was a shoe store there that is no longer there. There was a pharmacy which is no longer there. Actually, other than the fact that there were no department stores and some other things, it wasn’t that bad. Also, there were a lot less people; let’s face it.
Kent: Which was nice.
Clark: Yes, actually. Yes, it was.
Kent: How about the arts?
Clark: Ah. Actually there was really not that much going on. I think at that time (maybe it was in 1984) they were starting up the Council for the Arts. George Mhaffey and Ken Hawthorne, (who are no longer here; there are so many people who are not here anymore.) I am sitting here thinking, “Boy, I’m an old timer”. This is the way that the Council for the Arts started. I remember that they had a Shakespeare production in the high school gym. The gym then was not what it is now. It had these bleachers that were very hard. My husband and I went and we had to leave at intermission because it was so uncomfortable sitting there. The auditorium was not there; that is a wonderful stride forward. That is all that I can think of at this moment. It will come back to me.
Kent: Talk about AAUW.
Clark: Oh, OK. This was two years after I was here; it was in 1984. I saw this add in the paper (this is when I was getting bored) that they were going to start a branch of AAUW. They were having a meeting and so I thought, “I’ll go to that”. I did, and a woman named Charlotte Jeffery who is not around anymore… She is still alive but she lives in Gainesville. She did then, but she had a home here but it was kind of a summer place. There were thirteen or fourteen of us. We decided that Flagler County needed an AAUW. This was in January and so we decided that we would do some advertising; we put an ad in the paper and had people call. For our very first meeting (it was a breakfast) we had seventy five women. Beverly Kelly and I were taking in the money and it was really [laughs] I couldn’t believe it. Obviously the County was ready for some other kind of… There weren’t as many organizations as there are now. Women were ready for an organization such as AAUW. That’s how we started back in 1984 with fourteen of us. We were the Founding Mothers. Unfortunately let’s see, Beverly Kelly is still around and I am still here and M. J. Harris. Risa Cohen, who is a principal, was one of the original members but she got to busy with her job. Many of these women have either moved away or passed away so that there aren’t that many of us left.
Kent: The Founding Mothers.
Clark: Yes, the Founding Mothers. That was an exciting thing.
Kent: How did you get involved with the Library?
Clark: I met Merhl Shoemaker through… I didn’t mention anything about my political aspirations- my flirting with politics it was in that same year, actually. I don’t know how I had the temerity to do this, but I decided that the School Board needed me. So I decided to run for the School Board. I was not elected, obviously, but in this way I met a lot of people, among them Merhl Shoemaker who turned out to be a very good friend. He invited me to become a member of the library board (this is before it became a county library) This was just when it was the Flagler (I don’t know what they called it then) the Palm Coast Library perhaps. I’m not sure. In any case, he asked me if I would like to be a member of the board and I said that I would. I loved to read, and that’s how I got started. I decided that if I was on the board I ought to be a volunteer. So I did; I started volunteering one day (the same day that I am doing today, Tuesday).Elaine Wright was my supervisor; that is how I met Elaine. It was really… To watch the growth, it was just so exciting. It really was! Of course we had people who are no longer here who were active then: Bea Smith and our first director was Pat Miller (I think her name was) who did not stay very long. Then Roberta Shaw who really moved us along very well and got us started on our expansion. Actually when we first talked about expansion we had thought about doing it in conjunction with DBCC. [Daytona Beach Community College] We finally realized that they were not ready to build a facility here, so that we needed to go on our own. So this is what we did. Ken Hawthorne (who is no longer alive) he was on the board of DBCC and he was a strong supporter of the library. He was a big help. So that’s how I got involved.
Kent: And you remain involved.
Clark: Yes, I do. I remain involved. It is the easiest job that I have had to be Chairman of the Library Board.
Kent: The Board of Trustees, for the record.
Clark: Right, the Board of Trustees. It is one of the most rewarding things that I do; it really is. I enjoy it; I enjoy all of the people here, and of course I keep them busy checking books in and out.
Kent: You kept us busy with To Kill a Mocking Bird. [A recent Library Program entitled, “Flagler Reads Together”.]
Clark: Oh, yes! That was a lot of fun also. I got the idea from the Chicago Public Library and we got a lot of information from them. What they had done helped us a lot. I think that the next book that we do, we learned a lot and we will be able to make it even more successful and get more people reading. It was fun.
Kent: It was an exciting idea.
Clark: Yes, it was; it really was. Of course there are so many other places doing it; Jacksonville is doing it next month. They are getting a lot of help from the newspaper which we didn’t get that much. You need some publicity. We will do better next time.
Kent: Let’s go back to your “flirting with politics”. [laughter] You did run for City Commission of Flagler Beach.
Clark: Yes, I did. This was in 1987 and I was elected and I ran two more times so I had three terms as a City Commissioner. I retired in 1993; I decided to let somebody else have some fun. I enjoyed that; it is interesting to see how people react to things. Sometimes they are really very strange which is; what can I say? I did enjoy it and I learned a lot about the State and some of the other places around us. It was a good learning experience for me.
Kent: I have a list here. You were either President or Chairman of the Flagler Beach City Commission…
Clark: Yes, I was the Chairman for I think it was two years.
Kent: Flagler County Public Library Board of Trustees, Board of Senior Services…
Clark: Yes, I was Chairman.
Kent: Flagler County Education Foundation…
Clark: Yes, I was a member of that for many years.
Kent: Flagler Auditorium Patron Committee…
Clark: Yes, I’m still involved; I’m trying to back off that somewhat.
Kent: Flagler County League of Women Voters…
Clark: Yes, I was “stonewalled” and I was just elected President again; it is like President for life.
Kent: And the AAUW. There seems to be a theme emerging here. [laughter] Would it be safe to say leadership?
Clark: Ah, well I guess. I see that things need to be done and if I am able to help do it I like to do that.
Kent: What personal qualities do you think go into making that work?
Clark: Well, you have to have a little bit of knowledge, a little bit of parliamentary procedure (as far as conducting meetings and getting things organized), also being organized and delegating some things to your members so that you are not doing everything. Trying to keep your eye on the goal, what your organization is supposed to be doing. Something that maybe I don’t do as well as I should is trying to get more people involved and stimulating more leadership from members. This is what I am concerned about in the League of Women Voters; we just seem to be status quo with our little group.
Kent: That can happen.
Clark: Yes. Maybe it is because there are so many things to do in this county; that may have something to do with it, I don’t know. We keep saying, “Well, we’re going to keep this thing going at least one more election.” Then people say, “We have worked so hard that we can’t just let it go.” So here we are. One of my goals this year is to increase our membership somehow or other and find a project, something in the community that we can do that will really get our members involved, doing something for the people of the County. That is what we are supposed to be doing, in addition to registering voters and this kind of thing.
Kent: It certainly appears that you have a lot of fun in all of your civic involvement, but there must be other things that you do for fun that I don’t know about.
Clark: Oh yes. I play bridge; I play bridge one night a week. I do read a lot. Of course I’ve got my computer; I am highly involved with this now that I built this computer. I’m trying to get it sorted out. I’m involved in my church, not as much as I probably… I was involved as a Sitting Elder for awhile, but now I am just a member and when they ask me to do something I do it. Let’s see, I know I do some other things. I’m not playing golf anymore. I was playing very badly and …
Kent: It wasn’t fun?
Clark: No, it wasn’t any fun and I didn’t feel like taking lessons, so I just decided… I do walk every day; I do like to walk on the beach. I was involved (which maybe I didn’t have on that list) I don’t do it any more, but for about ten years I was involved in the Turtle Patrol. I did that every morning from May to October for quite a few years, walking the beach and marking the nests. That was something that I really did enjoy; it was great. Of course Reading Women (AAUW’s Reading Women) we do a lot with that. Well, I also subscribe to the Symphony and do the plays at the Auditorium and I guess that is about it. [Knitting and studying Italian are also favorite activities.]
Kent: It sounds as though you have a rich, full life.
Clark: Well, yes. I do like to keep busy.
Kent: Is there anything that you would like to add?
Clark: No, I think that we covered everything.
Kent: Thank you again for sharing your life story.
Clark: You are very welcome, and thank you!
Interviewer: Judith J. Kent
Editor: Anita Hoad
Disc Production and Photography: William P. Ryan
Funded and produced by The Friends of the Library of Flagler County Inc.,
Flagler County Public Library, Palm Coast, Florida