Mary Ann Clark, whose eclectic leadership, tenacity, verve and love for her community founded, fostered or shaped many of Flagler County’s cornerstone civic and cultural organizations over the past four decades, died Monday in Crystal Lake, Ill., where she had moved, not without regrets, after losing her cherished independence. She was 91 years old.
“I’m no longer able to drive and am unhappily departing to live near my family in Assisted Living in Crystal Lake IL at the end of the month,” she’d written in an email. “Double sadness!!!” The subject line of her email had been arrivederci, Italian for “see you later.” She had signed with her characteristic “Ciao!”
“I haven’t met a person say a cross word about her,” said Al Hadeed, the county attorney and a lifetime member of the Flagler County Historical Society, one of many venues through which he crossed paths with Clark, working with her firsthand. “She lived a fullsome life. She kept moving, physically, intellectually, leadership wise, organizational wise, she kept moving. That was also part of her personality of leadership.”
Hadeed described her as “tenacious,” a word that recurred with others who knew her, among them Sisco Deen and Gloria Deen of the historical society and Kim Medley of the American Association of University Women. Clark, Medley said, had been corresponding with her friends back here for many weeks after she left until they got word that she’d been transferred to hospice in late September. She would be tenacious yet again, a final time, a final few weeks, not surrendering to the inevitable until Veterans Day.
“It wasn’t unexpected but it’s still sad,” Medley said. Like her slight frame, even the seeming frailty of her latter years was deceptive: she was involved to the last, and when Flagler County marked its centennial two years ago, her life had paralleled the county’s for so long, had for so long been interchangeable with it, if not defining of it, that the celebration could just have accurately commemorated her own tenth decade.
There were few organizations Clark was involved in that she did not lead, or found: she was instrumental in the founding of the Flagler Auditorium, becoming the chairman of its patrons committee for eight years. She was among the 12 founders of the Flagler chapter of American Association of University Women, leading the organization for a few years, and was still active when she got her farewell dinner with AAUW at Olive Garden in August.
Clark chaired the Flagler County Public Library Board of Trustees, then was a long-time president of Friends of the Library, where she was the founder and organizer, for many years, of Flagler Reads Together, one of her seminal achievements. The annual event still goes on: the Friends pick a book every spring and encourage as many county residents as possible to read it together, holding literary and social events around the book and it’s there for a month. Clark started Flagler Reads Together in 2001, choosing Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”–and getting a personal letter from Lee for it.
Clark was always involved in, if not politics directly, at least the political process and voting rights: she led the League of Women Voters (and ran against Jim Darby for Flagler County Commission in 1996, as a Republican, when few people either ran or won as Republicans in the county: she’d always been a bit too far ahead of her times). She was even in the Women 50 and Over tennis team at the Palm Coast Players Club, winning two years running the team championship in the Greater Volusia League competition in 2000 and 2001. She also played bridge. She was in the Turtle Patrol. And she built her own computer two decades ago.
And of course she got involved in the Flagler County Historical Society, and led it from 2008 until this year, her tenure ending only because she had to leave the state.
Hadeed said her tenure was important because it occurred as the organization was consolidating its relationship with the county. There, too, she left her mark: like New York’s Jane Jacobs saving Greenwich Village from destruction at the hands of Robert Moses, Clark (who shared Jacobs’s characteristics) stood in the way of the demolition of the old county courthouse, getting it listed on the National Register, along with the old Dixie Highway (Old Brick Road). “Those were all things that were really high on her list,” Hadeed said.
“From just seeing her I would characterize her as a persistent leader and I really mean to use that adjective,” Hadeed said. “She envisioned an objective, rallied the stakeholders to adopting that objective and then persisted in assuring the accomplishment of that objective,” getting buy-in from those whose buy-in was crucial, whether private individuals or government. “She accomplished things with a quiet persuasion, it was a quiet persuasion in the sense that it was respectful, and she spoke but she also listened. She would grab that response–I don’t know how else to say it–she would grab that response and work with it” to get what she wanted.
Hadeed described her in terms familiar to anyone who’d known Clark: “Very unassuming, incredibly humble.”
“A fantastic, dedicated lady,” Sisco Deen said. Clark was born just before the Great Depression started on a farm outside of Belle Vernon in southwestern Pennsylvania. There were a few cows on the farm. Her mother, a teacher, made and sold butter during the years of the Depression. They were far from destitute–her father owned the farm–but they were not well off, either. There was not much religion in the family, but plenty of education, books, intellect. Clark loved school. She went on to Carnegie Tech, meeting her husband there. She became a teacher–for $6,000 a year at a school for the deaf. She substitute taught. She moved from Connecticut to Cincinnati to Memphis and finally to Crystal Lake.
The connection with Florida occurred in 1979, when she and her husband came to visit her father in law in St. Petersburg. “On the way down we stopped in St. Augustine,” Clark said in an oral history of her life recorded by the Historical Society. “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.”
A few years later they moved, she joined the Flagler Women’s Club, became its president in 1985, and didn’t stop since. She’d moved to Flagler in her mid-50s, a time when notions of “retirement” stop most people’s ambitions and love of life. Not hers. It was then, it seems, that the most creative part of her life began, to Flagler’s benefit.
“It sounds as though you have a rich, full life,” Judith Kent, who interviewed Clark for the oral history project, told her at the end of the July 2002 interview, somewhat prematurely.
“Well, yes. I do like to keep busy,” Clark said.
“Is there anything that you would like to add?”
“No, I think that we covered everything.”
For once, Clark was just plain wrong: she had two decades of her busiest life ahead of her yet.
The Flagler Historical Society published the following obituary (from Davenport Funeral Home, Crystal Lake, Ill.)
Mary Ann F. (Schue) Clark
Mary Ann was born on December 29, 1927 in Monessen, PA to Charles A and Beatrice Floro Schue. She graduated from Rostraver High School, Belle Vernon, PA and Carnegie Mellon University with a B.S. degree in Business Studies. She taught business subjects in high schools in Pittsburgh, PA and Cincinnati, OH. After moving to Crystal Lake, IL in 1972, she became a Certified Professional Secretary and worked as an executive secretary at Oak Industries and Sun Electric.
She married Edward G Clark in 1947. She and Ed “retired” to Flagler Beach, FL in 1982. Never one to sit around, Mary Ann was a temporary secretary and substitute teacher in her first year of retirement. She then became active in the community: president of the Flagler Woman’s Club, the Council on Aging, the Flagler County Education Foundation, the Flagler County Historical Society and was a founder and twice president of the Flagler County Branch of the American Association of University Women. She ran for office and was a three-term City of Flagler Beach Commissioner from 1987 to 1993. She was also an Executive Board member of the Friends of the Flagler County Public Library, chairman of Flagler Reads Together and was an Elder of Trinity Presbyterian Church. She was active with the Holden House Museum in Bunnell, FL and was a docent on Flagler County Historical Society bus tours. Her life story is part of the Flagler County Oral History project.
She moved to the Fountains in Crystal Lake, IL in August 2019 to be closer to family.
Mary Ann loved to knit and always had a spare baby blanket to gift, was an accomplished duplicate bridge player, an avid reader, loved Italy and travelled there annually for many years. All correspondence and phone calls ended with ‘ciao’.
Mary Ann is survived by her two children Thomas (Rena) Clark of Port Angeles, WA and Lynn (Dan) Doherty of Crystal Lake, IL. She had six grandchildren: Scott (Tessa) Clark of Mt Vernon, WA, Ryan Clark of Alexandria, VA, Malissa (Andrew) Jenkins of Renton, WA, Colin Doherty of Chattanooga, TN, Elise (Dan) Pondel of Arlington Heights, IL and Connor Doherty of Crystal Lake, IL. She also had two great grandsons: Alex and Jay Pondel.
She was preceded in death by her husband Ed in 1993, son Edward Charles (Chuck) Clark in 1977 and a brother Charles Schue Jr in 2009.
Mary Ann was quite the role model and will be missed. Ciao Mary Ann!
Memorial visitation at Davenport Funeral Home, 419 E Terra Cotta Ave, Crystal Lake, IL on Saturday November 16, 2019 from 2 to 4 pm, memorial service at 4 pm. If desired memorial contributions may be made to Trinity Presbyterian Church, Palm Coast, FL.