By ALLISON REAMER
Vera Clark’s secret to living to 103 was keeping family close.
Clark, formerly of Van Buren, died two months short of her 104th birthday on Feb. 28 at Birchaven Retirement Village. She was born in Hancock County on April 29, 1912, to Harry and Nettie (Buckland) Ridge.
Two months before she passed away, Clark told her granddaughter, Rachel Moffett, that it was family that kept her alive and well.
“She said, ‘I figured out why I lived so long. It’s because of all the grandkids. It’s because you guys stayed around,'” Moffett, of Findlay, recalled.
The family frequently had get-togethers and celebrated holidays at Clark’s home.
“She said, ‘You guys stayed around so I still have a purpose. As long as you have a purpose, you have something to live for,'” Moffett said.
And she took aging better than anyone, her son, Brian Clark of Findlay, said.
“There’s a lot of things about getting old that aren’t particularly that fun,” he said. “She had what I would call grace. There was no sense of defeat. She accepted what the world brought her.”
From a genetics standpoint, she was also destined to live a long life, as all of her sisters lived into their 90s, Brian Clark said.
Vera Clark had a few health scares over the years, but she was generally a healthy individual, family members said. Regardless of the problem, she wasn’t going to let it slow her down.
Brian Clark said every few months he had to take his mother to the emergency room because she wasn’t properly taking her medication. One Saturday morning, he took Vera to the emergency room, where the two stayed throughout the day. That night, he took his mother home and put her to bed.
He called her the next morning, but she didn’t answer. He called an hour later, and she still didn’t answer. He drove to Birchaven to check on her and she wasn’t in her room, he said.
“She had gone to church,” Brian Clark said.
“She got up, did her hair, put on makeup, hose, heels and a dress, and went to church. That’s just who she was,” Moffett said.
The events that Vera Clark saw throughout more than a century are truly remarkable to her family.
“When she was born, it was eight years before women got to vote. She was 15 years old when (Charles) Lindbergh did his transatlantic flight,” Brian Clark said. “Those kind of things just blow us away.”
Vera Clark graduated from Liberty High, now Liberty-Benton High School, in 1930, just three months before the Great Depression hit.
In her high school annual, she was voted most popular girl and, during senior year, she took home most popular, most likely to succeed and funniest titles.
“She was an outgoing, positive, bubbly person,” Moffett said.
Clark was the next-to-youngest of the living children in her family. Her mother died at a young age and an older sister took on the role of her mother.
“I think (Clark) was in the fifth or sixth grade before she realized that she didn’t have a mother, because they had an older sister, Mary,” Brian Clark said.
One day, Clark asked her father why everyone else called their mother “mom,” but he referenced her mother as “Mary.”
“She didn’t know that Mary wasn’t her mother,” Brian Clark said.
Following graduation, Vera Clark went to beautician school in New Castle, Indiana. She worked in a salon and rented a room from a family there.
Clark dreamed of moving back to Ohio and starting her own shop. But as a woman, she could not get a loan. A product distributor allowed her to make payments on a dryer chair, something that would be frowned upon then, Moffett said.
“He knew she wanted to move back to Ohio,” Moffett said. “He knew she wanted to have her own place, and she knew that would never happen in the system she was in, so he helped her do that.”
Clark moved back to the area in the mid-1930s and she borrowed $150 from her father to start The Daffodil Beauty Shop on Main Street in Findlay, where Marathon Petroleum Corp. is now located.
“Back then, it was like you got married and you were done. That’s not how grandma did it,” Moffett said. “In the midst of the Depression, not only did she go off and go to school and learn a trade, but she started her own business.”
On Sept. 5, 1942, she married Curtis Clark in a garden ceremony in her sister Ruth’s backyard in Van Buren.
The newlyweds lived for a while in Detroit, but then Curtis Clark had to report for basic training in Texas before World War II, right before their first child, Steven, was born.
Clark and the newborn traveled three days across the country to Texas to see her husband before he shipped off to war.
Once Curtis Clark returned, the couple had difficulty finding a home.
“Nobody would give grandpa a loan because he didn’t have a job because he just got back from World War II,” Moffett said. “Grandma owned the Daffodil for 12 years and they would not give her a loan for a house because she was a woman.”
So, they took matters into their own hands.
“Ruth (Vera Clark’s sister) lived in Van Buren and they had a barn beside their house. They took that barn and moved it onto a foundation and built that into a house. That was the house I grew up in and it was a barn,” Brian Clark said.
The house still stands.
Vera Clark sold the Daffodil in 1954 and became a full-time housewife with three children, Steven, Brian and Susan. Clark also worked part time as a beautician, often fancying women’s hair in a Van Buren basement shop.
Seven family members followed in Clark’s footsteps and became beauticians.
Problem-solving was a way of life for Clark. At 80 years old, she moved 40-pound bags of peat moss across her rose garden because she needed it done. She ended up pulling back muscles.
“She was a problem-solver,” Moffett said. “There was nothing she believed she couldn’t do or couldn’t get someone to do, and that they’d be perfectly willing to do it.”
For someone who was issued her last driver’s license when she was 93, the ability to have a vehicle was important to her. She co-signed for vehicle loans for several grandchildren, Moffett said.
One day, Brian Clark said his college-age son, Kyle, approached him to co-sign for a loan on a sports car. Brian Clark said he wanted to teach his son a sense of responsibility, so he denied the request.
But he knew who his son would turn to next.
“So I went out there to mom’s and went through this whole thing about how my son just got himself on the right path and we don’t want to have him strapped down with this big loan,” Brian Clark said. “She said, ‘I agree, everything’s fine.'”
A week later, Kyle Clark pulled into the driveway with the new sports car. Brian Clark said he was furious.
He drove to his mother’s house and she was making vegetable soup, his favorite.
He said he reminded her of the conversation they had about not getting his son into trouble with a big loan.
“She said, ‘You know, that was really smart on your part. So, I just gave him the money. Now, would you like some vegetable soup?'” Brian Clark said with a laugh.
“She already promised Dad that she wouldn’t co-sign for the loan. So there was only one thing she could do,” Moffett said. “She was a problem-solver.”
Problem-solving continued throughout her life. She learned to sew and she pieced together clothes for her grandchildren when they were younger.
When her church burned down, she and other women of the church raised a hefty portion of funds to rebuild through bake and craft sales.
“They used to make this cheese spread and it was a joke that it was the church made of cheese,” Moffett said.
Vera Clark’s attitudes came from the Depression, Moffett said. People in the community pulled together, Vera Clark told her family.
“People in the community would trade services for food and vice versa. She talked about how everyone came together, and it wasn’t like there isn’t enough to go around,” Moffett said.
Surviving are two sons, Steven (Linda) Clark of Lexington, Kentucky; Brian Clark, Findlay; and a daughter, Susan Ashton, Alexandria, Virginia; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Vera was the last of her family. Preceding her in death were seven siblings, Daniel “Dutes” Ridge, Carl Ridge, Melvin Ridge, Imo Smith, Leona “Nonie” Evans, Ruth Luke and Mary Ann Barger.
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