Clark remembered as life-long teacher, adviser
JANESVILLE — What would Janesville be like if not for James Clark? It would be a lot less active, that's for sure.
Clark died Thursday at age 79 after a short battle with melanoma. As community members remember his life, many recall his athletic contributions to Janesville.
Clark, known by his loved ones as Jim, spent 38 years in the Janesville School District as a physical education teacher, guidance counselor and tennis coach. Not one to spend his retirement lying down, Jim immediately adopted pickleball while spending time in Arizona.
Similar to tennis, pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court with a net 2 inches lower than a tennis net. The game is played with a hard paddle and a small version of a wiffleball.
David Schollmeier is actively involved in pickleball, both organizing and playing the game.
"Jim drew a court on the cul-de-sac out of chalk. They put up a temporary net, and they started playing with some people there," Schollmeier said. "Then he did it again, went down to Palmer Park where the tennis courts are. From there, it kept growing."
Clark had been keeping people active for more than 50 years, at first as a physical education teacher and tennis coach, then later with pickleball. After showing many of his friends the game, Clark took pickleball to the Janesville Athletic Club, and there are now 66 active players.
"He wanted people to stay active and have fun being active," Schollmeier said. "He was always looking for something that could keep people going, even as they got older and couldn't do the same things physically as when they were younger."
Brett Smith, a former tennis player for Clark and close friend of his son, Joe, remembers Clark's funny side.
Smith recalled a story when he and Joe had mopeds in 1978, and they rode around running errands and using the mopeds whenever they could. They were racing up a hill when Joe ran a stop sign he didn't see and drove into a moving car.
"He flew off the bike and landed hard on the ground. He couldn't even talk," Smith said. "He was pretty shaken up but mostly unhurt, and it damaged the bike. We took it back to Joe's house, and I told his dad what happened. I told him it was terrible and how he flew into the air and landed on the ground. Jim's reaction was, 'What did you do to the bike?'"
Clark saw that his son wasn't seriously hurt, and he couldn't help but bring his humor into the somber situation, Brett said.
Clark not only provided good laughs but also good advice to anyone who needed it. He was Smith's guidance counselor at Craig High School. When he asked Smith what his plans were after college, Smith wasn't sure how to answer.
"I just thought I would graduate, get a job, make lots of money, and it was going to be a simple thing," Smith said. "But it was him that really forced me to think about my future, more so than my parents because at that age you don't listen to your parents. Sometimes, it takes someone from the outside to really make you think."
Years later, Schollmeier noticed that Clark still had a mentoring hand as he watched him teach their friends how to play pickleball and saw Clark's desire to share the game with his peers. Three years ago, pickleball players were given their first outdoor painted court at Marshall Middle School.
"I remember how good and patient he was with new players," Schollmeier said. "From his history of being a physical education teacher, he was so good at gradually moving them forward in the game."
Clark's five children couldn't pin down a specific story in a lifetime of memories with their father. From the nearly 700 people who attended his visitation Monday—including many former students of Clark, athletes he coached and pickleball players he mentored—they know their father was appreciated and recognized for his many gifts to the community.
"The life work he did went much deeper than anything he did with a racquet," said his son, Daniel. "But that was certainly one of the tools he used to reach people."