Clark celebrates 100th birthday


By Tammy Watts

GREENVILLE — Snow and ice did not deter a crowd from filling East Main Church of Christ on Saturday, Feb. 5, to celebrate the 100th birthday of Ross T. “Rusty” Clark, some of whom had traveled from as far away as Florida.

“I never imagined this many people would come out to see ol’ Rusty,” Clark chuckled.

The number in attendance may have surprised him, but as the celebration gave many a chance to reminisce, or learn for the first time about the highlights of Clark’s extraordinary life, it became apparent how many people he has touched throughout the past century.

Clark, one of 11 children, including four sets of twins, grew up on a farm in Indiana, where they excelled at basketball. His first job was milking cows, and recalled how sore his arms were.

“But it was three dollars a week,” he said. Clark graduated from high school, where he had learned to type proficiently, a skill which would prove useful.

During World War II, Clark served with the Army Air Corps in Panama, where he worked as a desk clerk. “They found out I could type, and that’s all I did,” he stated. “I didn’t have to shoot anybody.”

After the war, he and his siblings formed a basketball team and traveled the country as the Clark Twins. They were featured in a Life Magazine story, published in 1948, bringing them national recognition. They were soon signed to travel with the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters, playing against them in exhibition games, both in the United States and overseas. One of those games, held in August 1951, set a Guinness World Record for basketball attendance at an outdoor venue, with 75,000 spectators. That record held until 2010.

During the European tour, Clark had the opportunity to meet such notables as Olympic Gold Medalist Jesse Owens, and the Pope. Of Owens, Clark remembered, “Here I was, talking to the greatest athlete we had, and he was the nicest man to me.”

However, not all of Clark’s memories were happy ones. He spoke of a time when no place in Bay City, Mich. would serve the Harlem Globetrotters, who then traveled over two hours to Detroit for a meal. “They played with us, but they couldn’t eat with us,” Clark stated.

The Clark Twins ended their basketball careers later that year, as the oldest siblings shifted their focus to family life. Clark’s travels did not end there, however. In 1986, he accepted an invitation to dig water wells in Zimbabwe for two months. He ended up staying for two years, serving at Chidamoyo Hospital, a rural Christian mission facility in northwestern Zimbabwe.

Throughout Clark’s career and volunteer work, faith and family were always priorities. He was married 67 years to Jackie, who passed away in 2012. They had three children, six grandchildren, and now six great-grandchildren, most of whom were present to celebrate his birthday.

Clark’s milestone event included a Color Guard, in honor of his military service, recognition from the Veteran’s Administration, presentation with an American flag, which had flown for a day over the Pentagon in his honor, and a basketball signed by the Harlem Globetrotters. At the conclusion, everyone participated in singing a few of Clark’s favorite hymns, such as “How Great Thou Art,” and “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”

To give everyone an idea of how the world looked a century ago, Clark’s daughter, Nancy Guthrie, shared some facts about 1922, the year he was born. “Warren G. Harding was president, and the Klondike Bar was invented,” she stated.

Millie Tullis, Clark’s only surviving sibling, spoke about her brother always being “a genuine good guy,” who was obedient, and never had any major quarrels with anyone. She added that he is the first in their family who has lived to 100.

When asked how it felt to be 100 years old, Clark offered some characteristically wise perspective: “Well, I need some help.” He paused, and added, “But lots of people need help, and they aren’t 100.”

Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Tammy Watts at [email protected].

No posts to display