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Gary K. Clarke


1939 - 2019 Obituary Condolences Gallery
Gary K. Clarke Obituary
Gary K. Clarke Gary K. Clarke, 79, died on Friday, January 11, 2019 in Topeka, Kansas. He was much beloved and will be greatly missed by his family. The family and Gary would want you to know that he wrote his own obituary.

He was born January 19, 1939 (a vintage year) in Wichita, Kansas, the USA prairie state counterpart to the African savanna. His formative years were in the Washington, DC area and Kansas City, MO. In 1956 he graduated from De La Salle Military Academy in Kansas City, where he achieved the rank of Captain (Commander of Company C).

He enrolled in Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO. Bored by the standard academic studies; he pursued his life-long interest in wild animals by working as a summer Animal Keeper at the Kansas City Zoo in 1957 and 1958. By the fall of 1958 he had flunked out of Rockhurst and took a full time position at Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City as a Laboratory Technician in charge of the Reptile Colonies. It was during this time that he experienced a near-death bite by a red diamond rattlesnake. He survived, and his encounter with "Big Red" became legend in the New Yorker Magazine, as well as numerous books, newspapers and scientific journals.

In 1960 he married Margaret Ann Curry and moved to Columbia, MO to attend the University of Missouri, but flunked out within two semesters. However, he started his family at this time, resulting in four children: Janet, James, Joyce, and John, all one year apart (he liked to joke that he and Margaret then bought a TV set). The children eventually presented him with ten grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, the joy of his life.

In 1961, destitute and with a family beginning to blossom, Gary returned to Kansas City and became a Senior Keeper at the zoo, working with species ranging from polar bears to gorillas to African elephants. In late 1962, he had the opportunity to move to the Ft. Worth, TX Zoo as a Curator and in October 1963 he was appointed Director of the Gage Park Zoo in Topeka, KS, which evolved into the World Famous Topeka Zoo.

At this time he was only 24 years old but already getting bald, so he was able to bluff his was way through the politics and bureaucracy that prevailed in Topeka. During his tenure, he worked under numerous Mayors, Park Commissioners, and Park Boards. He always contended that the "real zoo" was at City Hall, and credited the people of the community, his staff, and the animals for making the zoo a success.

Having failed to complete his college education in a timely manner, he enrolled as a non-traditional student at Washburn University of Topeka in the late 1970's. He carried a full academic load in night school and graduated with a B.A. degree in 1979.

In January 1989, he achieved a long time goal and climbed Kilimanjaro. He celebrated his 50th birthday while on the highest mountain in Africa. After more than 26 years as the Zoo Director in Topeka, he resigned on December 31, 1989. In 1990 he established Cowabunga Safaris and led photo Safaris to various countries on the African Continent. Upon his death, he had completed 140 Safaris. He always said it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

Friends remember his sense of humor and bad puns (they were neither funny nor punny), his blue Jeep all over town, his motto "Eat Dessert First; Life is So Uncertain", and his philosophy, "Life is One Big Game Drive."

Survivors include his wife Margaret; children Janet (Andy) Thiele, James (Alicia) Clarke, Joyce (Wayne) Wells, and John (Brenda) Clarke; grandchildren Kyle, Courtney, Drew, Becca, Caleb, Megan, Trevor, Stacey, Sarah, and Sydney; great-granddaughter, Mackenzie; brother Steve Clarke; sisters Cheryl (Lane) Locke and Denise Spence. He was preceded in death by his parents and sister-in-law Cathy Clarke.

Please join the family from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 19, 2019 as they greet friends at Dove Cremations & Funerals -Southwest Chapel, 3700 SW Wannamaker Road, Topeka, KS 66610. Refreshments and lite snacks will be provided. Memorial contributions may be made to the Martin & Osa Johnson Safari Museum, 111 N Lincoln, Chanute, KS, 66720; Friends of the Topeka Zoo, 635 Gage Blvd; Topeka, KS; or the organization of your choice. To leave a message for Gary's family online, please visit, www.DoveTopeka.com
Published in Topeka Capital-Journal from Jan. 13 to Jan. 14, 2019
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