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Fulton High School legend to be honored

ULTIMATE VOLUNTEER

Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 10:24 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 29, 2013 10:26 p.m. CDT

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His eyes welled up and his voice quivered when he thought about what might have been.

Last summer, 77-year-old Oscar Clark, Fulton High School's "ultimate volunteer," got a second chance to continue his second life.

It was Saturday, June 9, and Clark was driving across the south bridge from Clinton, Iowa, to Fulton. The longtime FHS volunteer was on his way to do laundry at the school. Then, it happened.

"For some reason, my heart stopped pumping blood to my brain and I passed out," Clark said. "I got in the wrong lane. I was going at least 45 [mph]. I side-swiped a pickup truck, and all the sudden there was a big bang and I hit the steering wheel so hard it snapped me out of it."

When he came to, he didn't know where he was. All he could see was a big orange glow.

"The first thing I thought was, 'Am I in heaven, or am I in hell?,'" Clark said.

It turned out that the glow was an orange semi that Clark had crashed into.

No one was seriously injured, but Clark bruised a lung and his esophagus, and was badly bruised by his seat belt, though he said it saved his life.

The next morning Clark had a pacemaker put in to help his heart function properly.

Fortunately for the DuPont retiree and Fulton High School, Clark was soon back at FHS.

In May, the jovial Clark will receive his second state award for his many years of contributions at Fulton High.

Already an Illinois High School Association Sporting a Winning Attitude Award winner, on May 4 in Peoria, Clark will be presented with the Class 1A/2A Friends of Athletics Award by the Illinois Athletic Directors Association.

What started off as Clark simply volunteering to tend to the basketball officials at Fulton's Deb Norman girls basketball tournament in 1998 has blossomed into Clark becoming an integral part of Fulton High School.

"He's on the Mount Rushmore of Fulton High School," said current Fulton football coach and physical education teacher Patrick Lower, who has been at the school since 1999. "His loyalty and dedication to this school is unparalleled."

Similar words were echoed by many, including current Geneseo baseball coach and former Fulton coach Steve Brucher, who was at Fulton from 1995 to 2002.

"People like Oscar are few and far between. Those people are invaluable," Brucher said. "It's hard to quantify their importance. He was so excited when we won, and so upset when we lost. He lived it. He felt a part of it, and deservedly so. I have the utmost respect for Oscar."

Retired Fulton athletic director and current Erie Middle School librarian Gerry Kreuder was the man who brought Clark into the fold.

"I think this extended his life," Kreuder said. "After retirement, it gave him something to do, and he sure did a good job at it."

Too good at times.

"One night I drove by after a baskeball game and he was still there doing laundry," Kreuder said. "I told him he couldn't be there by himself so late. It was about midnight. The next week I stopped by about 1 in the morning, and there he was. He told me he had gone home and come back."

"He caught me," Clark loudly laughed.

Clark has worn many hats, as well as a Santa Claus costume, over the years at Fulton. Besides the countless loads of sports uniforms he has laundered and being an ambassador to all visiting officials, he played the part of Santa for many years at Fulton's annual speech meet. He even got to give some postgame speeches.

His impact has not gone unnoticed. Besides the previously mentioned awards, Clark has been the Grand Marshall at Fulton's homecoming parade and has a courtyard at Fulton High named in his honor.

"That really got to me," Clark said of having the courtyard named after him. "I totally lost it."

Clark is a mere half the man he used to be. Once 248 pounds, the 5-foot-5 admitted former salt junkie is now in the 130-pound range. He had to change his ways due to mounting health problems.

With a strict diet and a lot of walking, he's relatively fit and trim, and feeling a lot better.

"I can even tie my own shoes," Clark spouted. "Before, I had to use the Velcros, because I couldn't tie them."

Clark began to volunteer at Fulton while following his grandson, Luke Bray, who is now a police officer in Clinton. Clark did not intend to stay on more than a few years, but he could not bring himself to leave.

"All these kids are my grandkids now," he said. "As long as I physically can do it, I'll be here. It gives me something to do. That way I'm not watching the boob tube all day and night, and I'm not in the wife's hair."

Clark, who was born in Nasvhille, Tenn., before his family moved to Clinton when he was 5, has been in his wife's hair for quite some time. He and Delores (Leslie) have been married since 1956.

Laundry list of accomplishments

• Ambassador to visiting officials

• Played Santa at annual speech meet

• Greets players with game uniforms and pregame mint

• Honorary coach at Northwest Illlinois Hall of Fame all-star basketball game

• Grand Marshall at homecoming parade

• Recipient of Sporting a Winning Attitude Award given by the Illinois High School Association

• Organizes the awards for the annual Fulton Boys Relays and Fulton Girls Invitational track meets

• Fulton High students named a courtyard at school in Clark's name

• Will receive Class 1A/2A Friends of Athletics Award from Illinois Athletic Directors Association on May 4

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