Belle Vernon man enjoyed his work, but loves his retirement
It's a wonderful life.
Jimmy Stewart's character, George Bailey, discovered that for himself in the classic movie, but Fred R. Clark Jr. has known it to be true all his life.
Born and raised in Belle Vernon by parents Fred R. and Margaret E. Clark Sr., Clark and his sisters – Marjorie (Clark) Apecerino and the late Shirley May (Clark) Demko – enjoyed learning about their family's strong entrepreneurial roots.
Clark dreamed of creating his own legacy one day. His grandfather, George H. Clark, who was in the oil well drilling business, moved from Oil City to Belle Vernon to establish his business in the Mid-Mon Valley.
Success in the drilling industry became a family tradition as Clark's father excelled in the business as well.
“My father was a self-taught machinist. He built his first drilling machine at 17-years-old. At 18, he was drilling his first well in Sutersville,” Clark recalls.
His father travelled to Deep Creek, Md., to drill wells in the winter, Clark remembers.
Clark's family also includes his uncle, the well-known architect H. Ernest Clark of Monessen.
Known for his design of many Catholic churches in the Greensburg Diocese, he designed all of the Catholic and Presbyterian churches in Monessen as well as the St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in North Belle Vernon.
Clark began his own business ventures when he started Clark Industries of Belle Vernon in 1959. His construction company flourished for nearly 40 years until he retired in 1997.
Clark Industries constructed commercial and industrial buildings throughout the country. Clark has worked in the Dakotas, southern states, and everywhere in-between, he said. He was hired for many government jobs, including building projects for the Air Force and Navy.
It was his extensive business travels that led Clark to try his hand at flying airplanes.
“I've been flying since about 1959,” he said. “I have 7,000 hours in the air.”
Having owned various planes over the years, Clark sold his last plane six months ago.
“Like Kenny Rogers says, ‘You have to know when to fold ‘em.' It's time to do something different,” he said.
Clark and his wife Darla (Speers) enjoy their family and home life in retirement, but they keep busy. Clark is a member of the Star Junction Sportsman's Club and the International Safari Club. He is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. The couple is actively involved in the Pricedale Union Church. Clark handled the design and engineering of the church.
They also own Speers Farm in Belle Vernon. Clark purchased the farm from his wife's uncle before he and Darla ever met. Members of his wife's family were the founders of Belle Vernon and Speers boroughs, he said. Although the couple never met growing up, they lived close to one another, and now live within 200-feet of where Clark was born and raised.
Fred Clark has three children: Paula Jansante, Sherry Wilkinson and Fred R. Clark III. He has three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Darla Clark has two children, Ryan Breza and Kim Lightsy, and two grandchildren.
Recently, Clark donated antique machining equipment that belonged to his father to the National Pike Steam, Gas & Horse Show in Brownsville. The equipment dates back to the 1920s. A new building was constructed on-site to house all of the machinery.
Happy to see the history of the equipment brought to life for a new generation, Clark helped getting it set up in its new home.
His work has taken him all over the country, but it's his love of home that keeps Clark happiest.
“Belle Vernon is the best place to live,” he said. “We have the best place in the country to live.”
Miranda Startare is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.