Frank Clark is a cornerstone within Oakdale — though he’d be the first to tell you he’s not.
However, it only takes one heart-to-heart with the man to learn that Clark is far more than the retired businessman he appears. Clark at his heart is a humble soul who still remembers how it feels to have little to spare; how hard his mother worked to support 12 children with nothing more than grit and determination; and how the concept of home and future could change at the whim of those in authority.
His story is both awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping with all the elements of a John Steinbeck novel, except his story is real and filled with the amazing highs and lows that eventually shaped the asset he would become to a small town that adopted his family in 1942.
He’s often a front-and-center volunteer within many signature committees and groups committed to building a better, stronger, more cohesive community and he’s always present and accounted for whenever there’s work to be done. Whether it’s serving on the Oakdale Educational Foundation or the Oakdale Senior Citizen Foundation or the myriad of other committees and foundations, Clark is a man who finds joy in helping others.
The Oakdale Chamber of Commerce will honor Clark as this year’s Lifetime Achiever at its annual awards dinner on Friday, Jan. 18 at the Bianchi Community Center at 6 p.m., along with several other award winners within the community.
What began as an act of fate when the family car broke down on F Street with no money, no place to stay, and six kids, has turned into a legacy of giving back to the community that embraced his family with untold kindness that changed lives.
“Oakdale has really been fantastic for my family,” Clark said. “You see every day what a wonderful community this is.”
For Clark such a statement is not simply lip service.
Unbeknownst to the Clark family at the time, Oakdale would become the beacon that would always provide shelter from a rocky childhood thanks to a father who suffered from alcoholism and a reckless sense of responsibility. When Clark’s father would uproot the family — sometimes in the middle of the night — the children never knew where they would wake up in the morning. When Clark’s father dragged his family up and down California, it was the community of Oakdale that always found a place for them.
And when Clark’s father didn’t come home one night — leaving 12 children and a wife behind — it was the town of Oakdale that stepped up and helped a poor, bedraggled family find their footing once again.
“One act of kindness changed our lives,” Clark said. “It’s hard to even talk about it to this day without getting teary-eyed.”
That one act — a $2,500 check donated anonymously to the Clark family so they could move from a dirt-floored, surplus canvas tent to an actual house on Fifth and J Street — was the turning point for the Clark family.
“I can’t imagine growing up as we did in a place like Los Angeles,” Clark said. “It’s not likely somebody would care so much for you.”
As a young man, he worked any job he could find as he helped supplement his mother’s meager income as a laundress. From his mother he learned resilience in the face of adversity and to never be afraid of a little hard work. At 12 years old, Clark went to work at the Feed and Seed; at 16 he worked at a gas station, and later he became a banker before becoming a police officer.
“My mom must’ve ironed a million shirts,” he said. “I always remember my mom ironing every day. She was very good at it.”
He smiled, adding “But that was the good thing about Oakdale. It might not pay much but I was always so thankful someone was willing to give you a job.”
Clark has packed more experiences into one lifetime than most people would think of experiencing in five.
In his professional career he’s been a banker, a police officer for the Modesto Police Department, a foreign-service officer for the US State Department during the Vietnam era, and retired as the vice president at E&J Gallo Winery.
To say he’s never truly understood the concept of being idle is accurate as in Clark’s own words, “I don’t like to be idle. I like to stay involved and keep busy.”
And he’s not kidding.
While his professional career is impressive, his volunteer résumé is nothing short of inspiring.
From serving as the president of the Modesto Police Officers Association to being a founding member of the Oakdale Education Foundation, Clark is an integral part of the inner workings of the town he loves so much.
But he’s the first to wave off any praise for his accomplishments, saying, “You appreciate people saying thank you because there’s a little bit of ego in it. One person doesn’t make that happen but you get the credit for it. The effort is really by all the different organizations and committees that I belong to; they really do all the work.”
Through it all, Clark has retained a sense of self that is unshakable, possibly due to the deep roots he was able to plant in Oakdale soil. He attributes his success to having a supportive mother, a wonderful wife, and a simple belief that hard work is always rewarded. And if one were to use Clark as an example of this belief, they might agree.
Or, maybe Clark was born under a lucky star whereas most people have luck doled out to them sparingly.
Either way, his experiences and the people in his life, from his friends, family, and fellow volunteers, have blessed Clark. When asked how he felt about being nominated as the Lifetime Achiever, he said with his signature dry wit, “I was surprised.”
Funny thing though, no one else was surprised because those who know Clark know … he’s earned it.
However, as accomplished as Clark is, he admitted to one regret in his life.
“My biggest regret was that I never went to college,” he said, but then he added with a cheeky grin, “I was always too busy working!”
For ticket information on the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce annual awards dinner, call the chamber office at 847-2244.