Elizabeth 'Libby' Clark
October 9, 1932-December 9, 2017
Elizabeth “Libby” Clark of Hanford passed away on December 9, 2017. She was 85.
She was born on October 9, 1932, to Mary (Hunter) and Walter Dugan of Greensburg, Indiana, the third of seven children. The Dugans moved several times during her childhood, eventually settling in Oak Park, Illinois. Libby attended high school there (her English teacher had taught Ernest Hemingway) and went on to Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, graduating in 1954 with a degree in education.
At that time the U.S. Navy was recruiting civilian school teachers to work on its bases. Libby's first (and last) job was at U.S Naval Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, teaching second grade at the base elementary school.
While in Hawaii, Libby met Lieutenant (j.g.) Willard “Bill” Clark. Bill had recently graduated from the Navy's Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and been posted to Airborne Early Warning Squadron One at Barbers Point.
A fourth-generation Californian, Bill grew up on the Hanford dairy owned by his parents, Mary (Barnes) and Wesley Clark. He attended the University of California at Berkeley and wanted to study architecture, but his parents insisted that he major in animal husbandry. Bill accordingly transferred to the University of California at Davis and graduated in 1952.
Libby met Bill on a blind date, arranged by mutual friends who knew that she liked music and that Bill had two tickets to a Bach organ recital. They were married in Honolulu on March 31, 1956. (Libby's wedding dress was shared with four other teachers.) They lived in Hawaii until early 1957, when Bill's father became critically ill. Bill resigned his commission and he and Libby relocated to Hanford, to help his parents run the family farm. That property, later named Cal-Clark Farms, was Libby's home for the rest of her life.
After Wesley Clark's death in 1958, Bill and Libby took over the day-to-day operation of the farm. They raised registered Holstein-Friesian dairy cattle, row crops, feed crops, fruit trees and three children. For seven years, they lived in a two- bedroom cottage fifty feet from the dairy barn. In 1964-65, Bill designed and built a Japanese-influenced redwood house for his family, in a field a quarter-mile from the dairy. An enthusiastic builder, over the years he added a new wing to the house and surrounded it with a classical Japanese garden and pond, two monumental torii gates based on Japanese examples, a bell tower and an office.
In the early 1970's Bill founded World-Wide-Sires, a company which exported American bull semen to cattle breeders in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa. It capitalized on breakthroughs in the science of animal genetics and artificial insemination; greatly-expanded commercial air travel; and improvements in long-distance shipping using dry ice. The business became very successful, enabling Bill and Libby to sell their herd and retire from dairy farming in 1979.
As WWS prospered, Bill devoted himself to the business and to what became his lifelong passion, collecting Japanese art. He amassed one of the finest private collections in the country, including painted screens and hanging scrolls, sculpture, prints, ceramics and baskets covering five centuries. (It now forms the nucleus of the permanent Asian exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.) He also collected Buddhist sculpture from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia and, with Libby, assembled a collection of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century American paintings.
Bill's goal was to spread the gospel of Japanese art and culture to the Western world. To that end, he built a climate-controlled museum on his property, the Clark Center for Japanese Art, to house and exhibit the collection. Between the demands of business and visiting museums and art dealers, Bill travelled constantly. When at home, he depended on Libby to help him entertain an ever-growing circle of friends and professional contacts. They came, by the carload and by the busload, and there was no place to feed them except the Clark household.
Hanford had little to offer in the way of restaurants, hotels or caterers. So, over a span of about 50 years (1965-2015), Libby prepared meals for thousands of visitors from all over the world. She was an excellent cook and baker, entirely self-taught, and a gifted practitioner of the Ikebana school of Japanese flower arranging. For many visitors, Libby's meals were their first experience of American family cooking. Guests were often surprised that she prepared everything herself: no cook, no servants. (She also served, cleaned up, did the dishes and laundered and ironed the table linens. In later years she hired kitchen help for these occasions, but still did the cooking herself.) Many had never been invited into a host's home or had a home-cooked meal. It was hospitality beyond the usual and was made special not only by the food, but also by Libby's sincere warmth and kindness. She was an inestimable asset to all Bill's endeavors, did double duty as a parent and manager during his long absences, and created a haven of peace and beauty for him to relax in—and renovate--when he was at home.
Bill was a towering figure in the worlds of agriculture, international business and art, and of course in his family. Much of Libby's adult life was shaped by his actions and needs; as with many couples, her story is often his story. However, she was very much her own person and hugely influential, although in a different sphere than his. Her home and children were her chief concerns and she never worked outside the house after teaching in Hawaii.
In 1987 Libby earned a Master's Degree in American history from Fresno State University, in Fresno, California. Her thesis was on the 18th-century soldier and painter John Trumbull. Her interest in American art, and her excellent eye for design and color, prompted Bill to begin collecting in that area, a shared pursuit which brought them great pleasure.
Bill died in on November 22, 2015, aged 85, after a two-year struggle with cancer. Libby cared for him at home throughout his final illness and remained on the farm after his death, accompanied by her dog Maki, surrounded by reminders of Bill and her family. Independent to the last, sustained by the familiar routines of house and garden, she lived out her life exactly as she wanted: on her feet, working. Her final day was filled with happiness and comfort: beloved family members were with her and an old friend came to visit. Her final words, spoken from an ambulance, were, “I'll be home soon.”
Libby excelled at caring for others and brought comfort to countless people. Her motto was to work hard and, if difficulties arose, to work harder. She told the truth, did her best and always looked on the bright side. She was strong and resolute and never made excuses. Private, dignified and elegant, she was also hilarious, spontaneous and witty. She loved babies and children and they loved her in return. She was a devoted fan of professional golf (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus), baseball (the San Francisco Giants) and the Olympic Games.
Libby, like Bill, was ahead of her time in concern for the environment. Over the years they fought against polluting industries in the Valley and established a wildlife refuge to protect threatened native species like the California kit fox. Libby was passionate about the welfare of children and animals, the arts, libraries and literacy. She was a patron of the San Francisco Opera, the Carmel Bach Festival, the Sierra Club, the Kings County ASPCA, the Hanford Public Library, Public Television, Valley Public Radio, the Carnegie Museum of Hanford and many other charitable organizations.
Libby is survived by her three children and their families: Wesley and Shaida Clark of Danville, CA, and their sons Cyrus and Cameron; Stuart and Lena Clark of Carmel, CA, and their children Elizabeth, Andrew, Madeline and Julia; and Catherine Clark and Joseph Joyce of Wellesley, MA, and their daughters Caroline and Alison Joyce. Her surviving siblings are Martha Stephens of Delaware, and David Dugan and his wife, Patricia, of Paradise, CA. Donations may be made to the Elizabeth Clark Memorial Fund at the Hanford Public Library.