Obituary of Jesse O. Clark
LIBERTY—Jesse Owen Clark, 91, beloved husband, father, papa and friend, died May 26 at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast. He was born July 17, 1931, to Nellie (Nickless) and Kenneth Clark of South Unity.
Jesse and his siblings, Harvey, Alvin, Clair, and Lorene, grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression, in a simple home that offered lots of opportunities for hard work and few modern amenities. Jesse spent his youth at his grandfather’s sprawling farm next door. Sadly, we have no photos of Jesse as a boy, but it’s certain his gentle nature and the lively twinkle in his blue eyes that endured throughout his long life was a part of him from the very beginning.
Jesse went to Freedom Academy, but left high school before graduating to enlist in the Army. He served as an MP in Okinawa, Japan. He returned home in 1952, with twinkle intact, and a penchant for snappy dressing, Saturday night dances, roller skating and shiny convertibles. He could dance on skates, and do tricks on water skis, and it wasn’t long before he took a shine to Toni Livingstone, from Center Montville. On Christmas Eve 1954, after a small wedding, they struck out in a snow storm for Buffalo, NY to honeymoon at the home of Toni’s sister, Faith, and her husband, Don. At family reunions thereafter, Don and Jesse often congratulated each other on their good judgment. They became brothers for life.
The first of two sons, Jim, was born in 1957. Jesse worked diligently and selflessly to provide for his new little family and to build the best life possible for them. He had an indefatigable spirit and boundless energy. Though he often had to “make do,” his drive to improve their circumstances remained throughout his life. He would always say “You do what you have to do,” a motto he lived to the extreme. He worked tirelessly for what he got, and he took great care of it once he had it.
As a young husband and father, Jesse worked for the contractor A.P. Wyman and, later, John Fitzsimmons where he “ran machines” to build schools, hospitals, fire houses and other infrastructure all over Maine. In
the early years, Jesse took Toni and Jim with him on the road to live in little trailers and rented cabins from Jackman to Wells to Woodland. Years later, he would point out buildings to his kids in passing and say, “You see that? I helped build it.” Even in his final days, Jesse reminded us with some pride
that he helped lay the foundation for the very hospital where he would pass.
Jesse and Toni settled in Liberty where he built their house from the ground up, bit by bit and year by year–mostly by himself. What they lacked in money, Jesse supplied with independence and an innate competence. The man could do almost anything. He was as comfortable putting on a new roof as he was under the hood of a car. His sons would joke that before the internet there was Jesse, and they would often call him for solutions whenever they were stumped.
Jesse’s second son, Andy, was born in ‘65. By then, he was operating a crane for Keyes Fiber in Fairfield, and driving a truck part-time for Consumers’ Fuel. Jesse left shift work at the mill to take a job as installer-repairman for the local Liberty telephone company (later to be Contel, and then Verizon) and he worked as a telephone man for the rest of his career.
He was deliberate, observant, and brought the same competence to his work that he had in all his other pursuits. He had a keen sense of how construction projects worked, and the company invested in him. He got his GED and numerous other certifications, and ultimately was promoted to the position of outside plant engineer where he organized, bid out, and supervised telephone infrastructure construction around the state. During his career, Jesse developed a love for revamping antique telephones and he had one in every room. And even into his 90s, if you asked him for the landline number of just about anybody in Liberty, he could tell you.
Jesse and Toni had a lot of fun, too. They enjoyed many gatherings with dear friends from Liberty and the beloved “summer people” who vacationed at the lake every year. Jesse built the family camp (typically piece by piece
and of his own design) on Millstone Island in Lake St. George, which became one of his favorite places and a gathering spot for countless friends and family. Summers, Jesse and Toni’s camp was the place you went for a cool swim and a burger, with Jesse always ready to come pick you up at the cement dock and ferry you to the island. Winters, for almost a decade, he and Toni, along with fellow Islanders the Breslins and the Hahns, hosted an annual “Ice Cutting” party that gathered folks from far and away to cut ice old fashioned style and store the cakes in a little ice house Jesse had built and filled with sawdust, toted grain sack after grain sack across the lake from a local saw mill.
Through their years together, Jesse and Toni were a team, giving freely of their time in community service. You rarely saw one without the other. Jesse was a member of the Liberty Baptist Church and for 25 years, they worked at the Liberty Area Food Pantry with Jesse, often in the company of his great friends, Alvin and Lester, driving to Lisbon to purchase food to stock its shelves. Jesse and Toni counted loons and surveyed invasive plants for the Citizens Association of Liberty Lakes. They operated the Little League concession stand for many years, with Jesse serving as the chief cook and bottle washer. At one time Jesse was on the Katahdin Area Council for Boy Scouts, and he served one term as Liberty’s First Selectman. Jesse volunteered his time frequently for the Liberty Library.
When Jesse wasn’t cutting firewood with his life-long friend George, together they went on many camping vacations with their families in tow. Jesse and Toni dove into retirement. They took off for six weeks, camping and hiking through many of the western-state National Parks. They hopped a cross-country Amtrak train to the west coast and they checked the Great Smokies, Maritimes Canada, and numerous New England destinations off their bucket list. Jesse was a great hiker and when not rolling off the miles daily on his treadmill, he and Toni could be found treading some trail or path within a drive of home. Just last summer, they loaded up the camper and set off for Vermont and upstate New York. Along the way, he scaled Mt. Ascutney at the age of 91. In their later years, they spent several winters in Florida bicycling, hiking and soaking up the sun on the beach.
He was a model dad, selfless and steadfast in his support. A man of few words, he taught life lessons through actions, and he set a very high bar. He was patient with each car that we dented, each curfew we missed. He was firm in his expectation that we worked to earn what we got. He expressed his love with his back and his hands. Over the years, as both of his boys began their own families, Jesse was always ready, hammer in hand and nail apron tied on, to help them build their own homes and families.
Jesse thrilled most in his role as “Papa.” Grandchildren Hannah, Maggie, Max, and David, were the light of his life. They never had a holiday he wasn’t with them; and never a week went by that they didn’t talk. When they were young, they got rides on his knee. As they grew up, they got endless shuttles to practices, events and appointments, tows behind his boat, shopping trips before school, and road service when they ran out of gas.
Never a man who needed (or wanted) to be the center of attention, Jesse was modest and self-effacing to a fault. He never wanted people to go to any trouble for him, and even at the very end of his life, he was more interested in your well-being than his own. You never left his house without his admonition to take care or to drive safely, or watch for black ice, or for deer in the road. And he loved it if you remembered to call when you got home so that he knew you were safely there.
“Just puttering around” he would say when you asked what he was up to. And if he caught you standing around and not helping out: “It’s a small job that doesn’t need a supervisor.” He had a quick wit that came packaged in quiet one-liners. When his nurse chided us for having too many visitors in
his room, Jesse stood and said “Well, I’ll leave!” And his wisdom was of the old Maine variety. Never a man to argue, he would say, “I’ve swallowed more arguments than food.” For him, the secret to a happy marriage was to “always pay attention to what she says.”
Thank you, Papa, for sharing your love and wisdom, your caring and humor, your willingness to give your time and immense capability to any project we had going. We had hoped to have you with us for many years more, but your giant heart just wore out, and like that doggone Mercury outboard you were always puttering around on, we just couldn’t find a new part to fit it.
Jesse is survived by his wife, Toni; his brother, Clair (and wife Patty); his sons, Jim (Abby) and Andy (Sharon); and grandchildren Maggie, Hannah, Jesse Max (Hannah), and David (Autumn); Maggie and Max’s mom, Gloria, and Lacey, who joined our family as a perky 1st grader and who Papa loved like a daughter. Jesse is survived by numerous brothers-and-sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, cousins, and a host of dear friends.
After a private committal, a celebration of Jesse’s life will be held at The Barn at Rosemoore, at 90 Pratt Road, Monroe, from 12-3 p.m. Saturday, June 17, 2023.
Memories and condolences may be shared with the family at www.ripostafh.com. Arrangments are under the care of Riposta Funeral Home.
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