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Walter Clark; mentored college students in Roxbury

WALTER D. CLARK WALTER D. CLARK
By Laurie D. Willis
Globe Correspondent / August 31, 2011

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Walter D. Clark had endured the racial turbulence of the American 1960s, so he was especially passionate about exposing young people to positive, socially enriching experiences. His multiracial roots - he was the product of an African-American father and Japanese mother - helped him easily relate to students at Roxbury Community College, where he was an instructor and dean.

“Dean Clark, who was also an attorney, was a resourceful, creative, and highly skilled colleague,’’ said Dr. Stephanie C. Janey, the college’s vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. “He was eager to try new methods to recruit students and improve admission processes. He was very effective in his role as the Code of Student Conduct officer, and he was also an adjunct faculty member who made a positive impression on his students.’’

Dean Clark died June 29 at Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer after suffering a heart attack, following a four-year battle with lung disease. The Groton resident was 59.

“Walter began his tenure at RCC as the director of admissions’’ in 2005, Janey said. “Because of his willingness and ability to take on additional responsibilities and because of the college’s needs, he became the dean for enrollment management and student judicial affairs. He was able to relate well to staff and colleagues at all levels, and he was always willing to help and go beyond the call of duty. We will fill his position, but Dean Clark can never be replaced.’’

Dean Clark was born in Japan and raised in the Bronx, N.Y. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, a former all-boys high school with notable alumni including James Baldwin and Alexander Julian.

He received a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1973 from Springfield College, and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Connecticut in 1976. He graduated from The University of Iowa College of Law in 1985.

A talented quarterback in high school, he led his team to the All-City Championship his senior year. He met Dennis D. Vegas of Houston when the two competed for the position.

“He was better at quarterback than I was, so I became a wide receiver over the next two years,’’ said Vegas. “We practiced a lot together, and we practiced intensely, and that’s how our relationship grew.’’

Mr. Clark grew up in public housing, and Vegas in a subdivision, but the two were virtually inseparable, often spending time at each other’s homes.

“He’s African-American and Japanese and I’m Hispanic, so we both identified with the struggles that were going on at the time, including what was happening to African-Americans in the US, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panthers, etc.,’’ Vegas said. “We each had a social consciousness though we were just teenagers, and we faced some of the same forms of discrimination that were prevalent at the time.’’

Vegas said he was not surprised that Dean Clark helped Roxbury Community College because he was always interested in improving the lives of youths.

“When we were in undergraduate school, Walter worked at juvenile court to help young kids,’’ Vegas said. “He also developed a life skills program at a halfway house that I started for Hispanic children in Springfield. After graduation, he worked for the Department of Human Services for the City of Springfield.’’

Vegas said that after his friend gave up his law practice in the early 1990s to return to the Bronx to care for his ailing mother, he helped coach a high school team of underprivileged children from Washington Heights.

“He not only spent time on coaching but also gave them experiences they never had,’’ Vegas said. “He raised money and took them on trips to play in other states to help expand their world and so they could know [that] things they only dreamed of could be achieved. The kids identified with his background and appreciated his commitment to push them toward the bigger picture.’’

Kim Clark said her husband worked in higher education for 17 years and was often asked to speak to groups. He was a member of the National Conference on Black American Affairs and the College Board’s New England Regional Council.

“Walter really loved working at Roxbury Community College,’’ Kim Clark said. “He loved the students and getting positive feedback from them. He also enjoyed giving speeches on higher education, a subject about which he was passionate. He was very proud of being asked to deliver a commencement speech at Housatonic Community College in Connecticut in 2006.’’

The Clarks were married 18 years and had three children, Joshua, Matthew, and Emiko, all of Groton. They met while waiting to apply for work with New York City’s Board of Education.

“We struck up a conversation and instantly felt comfortable talking to each other,’’ Kim Clark said. “And he let me go ahead of him after we’d both waited in line for hours. On our first date, he took me on a carriage ride through Central Park, and that was it. We didn’t have a long engagement. We didn’t need to.’’

Kim Clark said her husband was a hard worker with a good sense of humor that he exhibited in speeches and with his children. In his spare time, he enjoyed relaxing with family.

“He loved going to the movies, canoeing, fishing and barbecuing,’’ she said. “We loved to travel as a family and did so mainly by car so we could do more sightseeing. We traveled up and down the East Coast and also to the Midwest. We enjoyed the times we spent in the car.’’

Dean Clark’s mother, Shigeko Clark, was the inspiration for his 1993 book “Backbone, Broken Bones and Character: Growing Up in the South Bronx.’’

Besides his wife and three children with Kim Clark, he leaves his father, Hugh, brothers Mark and Curtis and sister Alisa Clark-Jenkins, all of the Bronx.

Divorced several times, he also leaves three other daughters, Elisa Thurman of Greenville, Miss., Shigeko Sykes of Middle River, Md., and Taeko of Newark; and two other sons, Walter Jr. of Montclair, N.J., and Jason of Providence.

“He was not only a dad to his children, but he was also a great friend,’’ said Thurman, his oldest child. “He was a kind-spirited person with a lot of drive and someone definitely to be proud of. We love him, and he will be missed.’’

A memorial service is planned for Oct. 11 at Roxbury Community College.

Globe correspondent Laurie D. Willis can be reached at lauriedwillis@hotmail.com


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