James Edward "Jim" Clark died on December 2, 2020, at home and surrounded by his family.
Jim was born August 14, 1935, in Dolton, Illinois, to Lilian (Photenauer) and Floyd Clark. He lost his mother at age 13 and his father at 17; he would eventually fill this void with a deep love for the family he would one day lead. He excelled at all sports, particularly baseball, which took him from Thornton High School to the University of Michigan courtesy of a baseball scholarship. He had been offered $4,000 and a new car to sign with the Milwaukee Braves following high school, but was advised by family friend Lou Boudreau to go to Michigan. His years in Ann Arbor had a lifelong impact, from lasting friendships with his baseball teammates and his friends on the Seldom Seen Kids intramural dynasty, to a newfound appreciation for the arts courtesy of the athletic department's complimentary tickets. His undying love for Michigan stemmed from the opportunities he found there while earning both an undergraduate and graduate degree in Education. Jim spent the summer of 1957 in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, playing semi-pro baseball and working as the recreation director for the city parks program. One summer day a lovely young lady caught his eye; a whirlwind courtship began. Noni Wilder brought Jim home to meet her parents; her skeptical mother Loretta put forth a halfhearted dinner of creamed tuna on toast, not anticipating that the food-loving young man would believe he was getting a king's welcome! Noni and Jim were married on January 25, 1958, in Wells, Minnesota, and before long he became Loretta's #1 Son-in-Law. Jim and Noni spent the next years in southwest Minnesota, launching his coaching career and starting their family. He taught and coached at high schools in Hanley Falls, Marshall, and New Richland, where his baseball teams won 4 conference titles. In 1966 Jim joined the faculty of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. As Director of Intramurals, he implemented the intramural sports model he enjoyed at Michigan, which promoted physical activity across the student body, not just for members of sports teams. As Baseball Coach, he led the team to the Wisconsin State University Conference baseball title in 1967; he was named NAIA District 14 coach of the year in 1971. Since the Wisconsin weather impeded early-season baseball, Jim scheduled and handled travel arrangements for an annual Southern trip, travelling on the Blue Goose team bus and providing his players cultural experiences they would have otherwise never experienced. Jim loved baseball, but more important were the strong bonds he formed with his players, and he was so proud that many players from UWSP and his Minnesota high school days stayed in touch. To support the family, Jim took on extra jobs working at a grain elevator, on a road blacktop crew, and as a teacher of driver education to migrant farmworkers. Every job was an opportunity to meet new people and gain an appreciation of their world. He officiated high school sports in towns across Wisconsin, always stopping for a piece of pie after the game. His officiating crew remained friends for years, with great stories of mishaps although none would ever admit to blowing a call. Jim took a leave from UWSP to pursue his certification in educational administration, serving in administrative positions in Delevan-Darien and Coleman school districts. In 1978 he became coordinator of physical education for the Stevens Point Public Schools. He encouraged his teachers to find ways to make phys ed applicable and enjoyable for every student. He visited each school in the district regularly and loved meeting the students; years later, he would be especially tickled to meet a young adult who remembered him from gym class. He greatly enjoyed the camaraderie with the phys ed teachers, including friendly wagers on Michigan-Wisconsin football games. He was often called Jumbo, which fit not just his physical size but his larger-than-life personality. His booming voice was welcoming and enthusiastic. He loved a good story, and his laugh was hearty, infectious and unforgettable. His baritone voice often preceded his arrival by several blocks in summer months as he sang with the car windows down. A letter or memo from Jim came with an inkstamp of his smiling face and his chicken-scratch "Go Blue!" next to it. Jim knew everyone in town, it seemed. And if you hadn't met him, he would ask about your family, your home town, your elementary school gym teacher – and within minutes, you felt like an old friend. He was relentlessly optimistic, even when circumstances were dark, and had an abiding dedication to creating opportunities for all through education, government, church, and personal connection. Jim was a dedicated family man. He was an energetic dad to his and Noni's seven children (Molly, Liz, Jenny, Tom, Sarah, John, Pete). He demonstrated the importance of hard work and cooperation, and created a sense of community within the family, the neighborhood, the school and the city. He showed a fearlessness about trying new things, from acting in a community theater production to carrying the mace for a drum & bagpipes band, and he wholeheartedly supported his children's varied interests. He viewed education as the key to opportunity, and found creative ways to support his children in earning money for college, such as buying an old mail truck for the kids to start an ice cream business traversing through the city. He loved celebrations of all sorts, but was uniquely proud to attend graduations. Jim was a beloved Grandpa with a unique style. He turned Fight Songs of the Big Ten into soothing lullabies, dressed as a pilgrim for a surprise Thanksgiving entrance, and played Igor the Assistant to a budding magician. He shared coaching tips and unlimited support for the grandchildren's sporting efforts, and anxiously awaited calls to hear about games, recitals, or school activities. Jim was extensively involved in youth baseball in Stevens Point, working to create opportunities for more kids to play. His efforts included stints on the board of the Stevens Point Youth Baseball Association, founder and general manager of the Babe Ruth Pepsi team for the 16-18 age group, and co-creator of a league for 13-year-olds formed to keep kids in the sport at an age when many drop out. From 1982-2012 Jim served on the Portage County Board of Supervisors and was known for using humor to bring people together to find common ground. He had a long tenure as chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, where his understanding and empathy of underserved individuals were critical to the Committee's effectiveness. He was particularly committed to expanding resources for seniors and people with disabilities; his work in this area led to the 2008 Alfred Hirsch Award for Advocacy from the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups. After retirement, Jim continued serving on Portage County committees and conducting observations of phys ed student teachers. He and Noni traveled to new places like Ireland and Hawaii, along with frequent visits to see family. They were active at Newman University Parish, particularly enjoying opportunities to connect with college students and young families. He adorned the backyard with birdhouses, whirligigs, statuary, and Christmas lights; he fought endless wars against the squirrels who invaded his bird feeders. Later in life, as Noni's health declined, Jim centered his days around creating familiar routines for her: taking a spin around town; watching Andy Griffith each night; capping off the night with a dish of ice cream, prayers and a kiss. They looked forward to visits, calls and cards from family and friends. When it became difficult to attend UWSP and SPASH games in person, Jim looked forward to tuning in on his transistor radio to Scotty Krueger's broadcast, phone ready for the halftime trivia question-which he won just weeks before his death. 2020 was hard for Jim, as he lost his oldest daughter Molly in March, followed by the loss of Noni, his beloved wife of 62 years, in October. He leaves a giant-sized hole in the hearts of his surviving children and grandchildren: daughter Liz Menzer of Stoughton, WI and grandchildren Evan, Graem (Susan), and Rory (fiancée Holly); daughter Jenny Clark of Milwaukee, WI; son Tom (Nancy) Clark of Shrewsbury, MA, and grandchildren Shannon, Ally and Lauren; daughter Sarah Clark of Ann Arbor, MI, and grandchildren Jack and Willy; son John (Kirsten) Clark of Gibsonia, PA, and grandchild Torben; son Pete Clark of Stevens Point and his partner Carissa Smith; son-in-law Tim Voorheis of Syracuse and grandchildren Mattie, Tom, Ellen and Pat; and a host of nieces, nephews and extended family who knew him as an intrepid card player with a tendency to overbid and a penchant for table-talk. Jim also leaves behind multitudes whose lives he touched through coaching, teaching, mentoring, county board service, church activities, and being a genial fellow. The family greatly appreciates the messages you have shared about Jim's impact. He was preceded in death by siblings Madge Baumgardner, Vernon Clark, and Bruce Clark. A special thanks to the people who allowed Jim and Noni to remain at home through the end of their lives, led by son Pete, who visited daily to oversee health and nutrition needs and to make sure they felt loved and secure; daughter Jenny, who supported their daily routines on her extended visits; and in-home caregivers who looked after them with love and sensitivity. Jim died of COVID, even though he rarely left the house other than for medical appointments. He was frustrated that people have disregarded COVID safety precautions. In Jim Clark's world, people look out for one another. Jim loved a big gathering, and as much as he would have appreciated the sharing of memories and funny stories, he would not want a risky gathering during this pandemic. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Portage County Health and Human Services Department (Attention Ray Przybelski), 817 Whiting Avenue, Stevens Point, WI 54481; funds will provide assistance to individuals in need. The family will have a private committal service at Holy Spirit Parish in Stevens Point at 10:00 am on Monday, December 7; we invite you to participate by video through the parish YouTube channel. Jim will be buried next to Noni at Guardian Angel Cemetery, where the kids will sing Hail to the Victors as he slides into home one last time. We hope you'll continue to share your memories with us. Stop by the cemetery sometime; Jim & Noni will be happy to see you.
Published in Stevens Point News from Dec. 9 to Dec. 11, 2020.