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Alvin Clark: A life of service

ALVIN CLARK and his wife, Norma, enjoyed 68 years of married life that included working together for almost three decades as the owners of Johnny’s Café and raising four children.	Contributed photo

ALVIN CLARK and his wife, Norma, enjoyed 68 years of married life that included working together for almost three decades as the owners of Johnny’s Café and raising four children. Contributed photo

Alvin “Alvie” Clark, 89, died Nov. 6 and will be remembered by his family and friends as a humble man who had a great sense of humor and a kind heart.

“He was such a good man, but quiet. He never called attention to himself,” said Norma Clark, his wife of 68 years.

To others in the community where he was born and raised, Clark was best known as the long-time owner of Johnny’s Café at 408 East Second Street, as well as an active volunteer with many civic organizations and youth sports programs.

The Clarks bought the café in March of 1971 and it was open 24 hours a day.

“We didn’t even have a key to the front door,” said Norma. “Our youngest children grew up in that restaurant.”

The atmosphere at the café was family friendly, the furnishings practical to survive heavy wear and the menu full of breakfast, lunch and dinner possibilities.

In 1977, when there was a gasoline shortage that kept people home and created a national economic crisis, the Clarks started closing the café at 10 p.m. They reopened at 6 a.m. and decided to keep those hours because it was easier on their family life.

“People liked the daily specials, especially steak night on Thursdays,” said Norma. “We also had some unusual menu choices, such as liver and onions and baked heart.”

They closed the dining room on holidays but still prepared orders for turkey dinners that were picked up at the back door.

On Christmas Eve 1996 the restaurant caught fire and Norma said the blaze that caused heavy smoke damage is believed to have started when a dish towel near a boiling pot of stock on the stove was ignited.

“The poor kid who was cooking that night never could talk to Alvin again,” she said. “All the people who had ordered turkey for the holiday didn’t get them that night.”

The damage was repaired and the Clarks were open for business a short time later. They sold the café in 1999.

Alvie and Norma, who is also a native of The Dalles, met in high school, but he was a couple of years older and they didn’t spend time together. They reconnected after she graduated and began seriously dating.

Once they were married, he worked as a meat cutter at the former Economy Market and Kips Foodland. He was a partner with Charles Harding at Bonn’s Meat Market for 17 years.

The couple raised four children, informally adopted two exchange students, and became grandparents to 10 and great-grandparents to 17.

“The grandkids all vied to sit on his lap, he was very special to them,” said Norma. “He loved fun, he loved family, and he loved kids.”

Although her husband was the “rock of the family,” Norma said he found it difficult to discipline the children so she was usually the one to take on that task.

“We supported each other,” she said.

Clark was actively involved in the Mid-Columbia Shriners through Masons Lodge 15 in The Dalles. The Shriners raise funds to help children with hospital care for serious and life-threatening illnesses.

An example of Clark’s service to the organization is the annual oyster feed that drew crowds and raised money for the cause.

His volunteer service included coaching Little League and Babe Ruth baseball, membership in the Elks Lodge, Eagles Lodge, The Dalles Booster Club and Wasco County Pioneers Association.

He was also involved in 4-H, FFA (Future Farmers of America) and Meals on Wheels, in addition to serving on the North Wasco County School District 21 Budget Committee and participating in the La Wonick Dance Club.

“He could never belong to the Lions, Rotary or Kiwanis clubs because he owned a business and couldn’t get away in the daytime,” said Norma.

The first of many honors bestowed on Clark was the Amaton award in 1979 for supporting athletic programs at the high school. He was also recognized as Man of the Year by The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce and as Wasco County Pioneer of the Year.

He received a Columbia Pacific AFS (American Field Service) award and was once grand marshal of the Fort Dalles Rodeo Parade.

He served as president of the local Shriners group and head of the American Little League chapter in the area.

Norma said the award that meant the most to her husband was his 10-gallon pin for regular donations to the American Red Cross.

“That was what he was the most proud of,” she said.

Clark’s second point of pride was being one of the best bowlers in The Dalles, an activity that he enjoyed for more than 50 years.

After he had open heart surgery 19 years ago, Norma said Alvie began slowing down his lifestyle and took on less activities. He also suffered from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and diabetes, which he very carefully managed.

“He walked with a cane instead of the walker that he should have been using because he was very independent,” said Norma.

Although not as active in volunteer causes during his later years, Norma said Alvie remained an avid sports fan, especially when it came to watching the OSU Beavers play any game.

He had played Liar’s Poker at Johnny’s and continued to meet up with friends for card games, most recently at Zim’s, during his retirement years.

Liar’s Poker combines the ability to bluff with the insight of recognizing when an opponent is bluffing. The game can be played for money or for points.

“We were raised during the Depression so we grew up playing cards and games, that’s just what you did in those days,” said Norma.

She said her husband also fished and hunted in his young years but eventually gave those sports up.

“He wasn’t very successful with either one and, to tell the truth, I wasn’t unhappy about that,” said Norma.

She believes that her husband knew that his life was ending several weeks before he died at Mid-Columbia Medical Center.

“He had Thanksgiving and Christmas planned,” she said. “He always took good care of us.”


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