Mark Clark came to the Valley as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 25-year-old, and he hasn’t changed much since. His laugh has carried through the halls and meadows of Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) and now echoes off 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 an urge to get outside, whether to run, ski or kayak down 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 overseas in Germany, initially with the intention to complete his master’s degree in theology. “My girlfriend at the time, who became my wife and is still my wife,” Clark laughed, “had gotten a job with the Outward Bound school” there. It occurred to him then that he wanted his wife’s job. He tried to get a position with the German Outward Bound school, but it turned out there wasn’t an opening for the young American — not yet, anyway.
First, he worked as a tree-faller (lumberjack) with the patriarch of a previous host family in Germany. Soon, however, he landed his dream job and worked two years along with Jeanie for Outward Bound.
He came back to the states to complete his studies at Claremont Graduate University and continued studying religion, delving into eastern and western theologies. “It’s always been interesting to me how people formulate their lives, what motivates them and gets inside of them and becomes an ultimate concern,” he told The Sopris Sun.
Before going on to pursue a doctorate, and thanks to a little push from an advisor, Clark realized his niche was in secondary education. “I really like that era, that age … I find them more receptive,” he explained to his mentor at the time. So, he came up with a short list of high schools that resonated with him, and CRMS made the list.
After seeing the campus, with a cross country ski track jetting from each faculty member’s front door, he was hooked. He fielded a couple of other job offers, but his heart was set.
Clark anxiously waited by the phone for a call from the school at his soon-to-be in-laws’ house (while his soon-to-be wife was on a river trip). “I’m like this dog watching a bone,” he recalled. By 5 p.m., he couldn’t take the anticipation. He got in his rig with a kayak on the roof and drove toward Moab. He slept in the back of his car at the Hole in Rock parking lot.
Knowing his wife’s group was due to come through Mexican Hat, he successfully intercepted them there. Off the boat ramp, at a little store, he used a payphone to make the call.
CRMS Headmaster, Randy Brown, told Clark he had the job. “I didn’t know how much I was going to make. I didn’t know where we were going to live, but I’m like, ‘awesome.’” Then, he got on his kayak and paddled downstream with Jeanie and their friends.
Clark and Dutton Foster, the academic dean at the time, taught Western Civilization together — in the same classroom and during the same period. “As an apprenticeship, to watch this guy who was so linguistically gifted and so compassionate for the students … to work with him was an amazing experience.”
In the early ‘80s, he took over for Ken Hause, teaching philosophy and religious studies. “He was a legend. He was a great teacher,” Clark said of Hause.
Clark also ran the kayaking and, eventually, cross country ski programs. He recalls setting ski tracks with a jeep on the point pasture just north of the school.
He describes the school as a consumptive place. “I’ve always tried to find a way to lose myself in an experience,” and CRMS provided that opportunity. By the same token, “I always felt, even though I was sort of cloistered over there, I felt the community … I felt the Carbondale community.”
Clark continued, “The thing that was really wonderful for me was that people like Sue Lavin would go 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 J.E. DeVilbiss.”
He recollects a talk he gave once about “being branded by the old Bar Fork. All of us at the Rocky Mountain School had been stigmatized. And that stigmata, that is a sort of brand. We’ve been touched. So I feel super grateful to the school for being able to have been there for as long as I have.”