By James Steindler
Mark Clark arrived in the Valley at the age of 25, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and he hasn’t changed much since. His laughter has passed through the halls and meadows of Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) and now echoes across the Grand Tetons — at least for part of the year.
Clark recently retired from CRMS, where he began teaching in 1979.
He was born with a desire to get outside, whether it was to run, ski or kayak the Colorado River. After a not-so-favorable stint at a public high school, Clark attended Colorado College. There he met his wife, Jeanie.
After college, he found himself abroad in Germany, initially with the intention of completing his master’s degree in theology. “My girlfriend at the time, who became my wife and is still my wife,” Clark laughed, “got a job at Outward Bound School” there. It then occurred to him that he wanted his wife’s job. He tried to get a job at Germany’s Outward Bound school, but it turned out there was no opening for the young American – not yet, anyway.
He first worked as a tree feller (lumberjack) for the patriarch of a former foster family in Germany. Soon, however, he landed his dream job and worked two years with Jeanie for Outward Bound.
He returned to the United States to complete his education at Claremont Graduate University and continued to study religion, immersing himself in Eastern and Western theologies. “It’s always been interesting to me to see how people shape their lives, what motivates them and penetrates them and becomes an ultimate concern,” he told The Sopris Sun.
Before embarking on a doctorate, and with a little nudge from an adviser, Clark realized that his niche was in secondary education. “I really like this time, this age… I find them more receptive”, he explained to his mentor at the time. So he put together a short list of high schools that resonated with him, and CRMS made the list.
After seeing the campus, with a cross-country ski trail springing from every faculty member’s front door, he was hooked. He responded to a few other job offers, but his heart was set.
Clark anxiously waits by the phone for a call from school to his future in-laws (while his future wife is on a river trip). “I’m like that dog looking at a bone,” he recalls. At 5 p.m., he couldn’t take the anticipation any longer. He got into his rig with a kayak on top and drove towards Moab. He slept in the back of his car in the Hole in Rock parking lot.
Knowing that his wife’s group was to pass through Mexican Hat, he successfully intercepted them there. On the boat launch, in a small store, he used a pay phone to make the call.
CRMS Director Randy Brown told Clark he had the job. “I didn’t know how much I was going to win. I didn’t know where we were going to live, but I thought to myself: “Awesome”. Then he got on his kayak and paddled downstream with Jeanie and their friends.
Clark and Dutton Foster, the university dean at the time, taught Western Civilization together – in the same class and during the same period. “As an apprentice, watching this guy who was so linguistically gifted and so compassionate to students…working with him was an amazing experience.”
In the early 1980s, he took over from Ken Hause, teaching philosophy and religious studies. “He was a legend. He was a great teacher,” Clark said of Hause.
Clark also led the kayaking and eventually cross-country skiing programs. He remembers blazing ski trails with a jeep about to graze just north of the school.
He describes school as a place of consumption. “I’ve always tried to find a way to lose myself in an experience,” and CRMS gave me that opportunity. Similarly, “I always felt, even though I was kind of cloistered there, I felt the community…I felt the Carbondale community.”
Clark continued: “What was really wonderful to me was that people like Sue Lavin went out of their way to introduce me to really wonderful people in the community – like John and Anne Holden. [the founders of the school] … like Peggy and JE DeVilbiss.
He remembers a talk he once gave about “being scarred by the old Bar Fork. All of us at Rocky Mountain School had been stigmatized. And this stigma is a kind of mark. We have been affected. So I’m very grateful to the school for being able to be there as long as I have.