Obituary: Elmer M. Clark / Neighborhood activist made a big difference in West End and Elliott
Sept. 29, 1940 - Dec. 3, 2009
December 5, 2009 5:00 AM
Elmer M. Clark
By Dan Majors Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Elmer M. Clark, whose dedication to his home community helped give so many visitors to the West End/Elliott Overlook a spectacular view of The Point, died Thursday evening. He was 69.
Mr. Clark, president of the West End Elliott Citizens Council, suffered a heart attack while in a car with friends returning from Schenley Park, where they had attended a celebration of those donating their time and efforts to the city's Weed & Seed project.
"He was one of the greatest assets that the West End Elliott Citizens Council ever had," said Norene Beatty, a former president of the council who knew Mr. Clark for nearly 20 years. "He lived and breathed for the children and the community."
A native of Carrick and a graduate of the former St. Casimir High School on the South Side, Mr. Clark moved to Elliott in the late 1960s, shortly after marrying his wife, Lesley. He made his living working at various grocery stores, including a longtime job as produce manager at the Foodland in Arlington. Later, he was a janitor at a health care facility in Baldwin, said his daughter, Kelli Clark Detwiler, of Carnegie.
While working nights as a janitor, Mr. Clark spent his days helping raise his grandchildren, Ms. Detwiler said. The free days also gave Mr. Clark a chance to get more involved in his community.
"I was the president of the West End Elliott council, and Elmer just walked into the office one day and said, 'How can I help?' " said Ms. Beatty, who now lives in Oakwood.
Ms. Beatty said Mr. Clark jumped in to work on the city's $10 million renovation of the West End/Elliott Overlook in 1990.
"He came on board when the overlook project was nearing completion, and his input with the contractors had a lot to do with the way the overlook was finished and some of the amenities that are there," Ms. Beatty said. "The building [had been] left uncompleted and sat there for two years like a white elephant, and it was Elmer and Elmer alone that went to the city and back to the city, and now that is one of the most popular rented-out pavilions in the city."
As recently as last month, Mr. Clark was bustling around the overlook, making sure everything was perfect for the city's Light Up Night.
"We did 300 gift bags with Santa Claus, free coffee and cookies, and music," Ms. Beatty said. "And Mr. Clark filled every one of those 300 bags. Mr. Clark got the apples and oranges. Mr. Clark had the building open and everything going, and when those of us who came back to be the cleanup crew the next day got there, we found that Mr. Clark had already done it all.
"If there was a cleanup, Mr. Clark didn't hand out the brushes and brooms. Mr. Clark took one and did as much if not more than any young person who helped out.
"When we had an Easter egg hunt, he was there putting Easter eggs down in the snow or in the mud or in the sunshine. Elmer was always there."
But it wasn't all holidays and happiness. Sometimes, Mr. Clark needed to push elected officials in an effort to better his community.
"He would go to City Council meetings and he would push for grants," Ms. Detwiler said. "He could be a pain. I know they had a tour recently of the West End, and he pointed out abandoned buildings and trouble spots."
"He was outspoken and sometimes he said something the politicians may not have liked," Ms. Beatty said. "But he was always honest, and he wasn't there for something for Elmer or some kind of political resume. He was there because he cared about the community.
"He wanted to see Elliott have a rebirth. His dream was for redevelopment. He never gave up on the idea that we could redevelop the Chartiers-Lorenz corridor, which is the heart of Elliott."
Survivors include his wife; a second daughter, Nicole Clark of Crafton; and four grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 1 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Anthony G. Staab Funeral Home, 900 Chartiers Ave., West End. Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday in Guardian Angels Church.
Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.