A habit is something you can do without thinking – which is why most of us have so many of them. – Frank A. Clark
By TOM LONGDEN • Register Staff Writer
'Parson' Clark inspired legions of faithful readers
Frank Clark ministered to tens of thousands of people in an unusual way - via his popular one-panel newspaper cartoons.
His instructive and insightful "The Country Parson" sermons were treasured by loyal fans. At the height of its popularity, in 1963, the feature was published in 79 American newspapers, although during its lifetime it was carried by more than 200 newspapers.
Clark took weighty themes and treated them with gentle humor, lightly poking fun at human foibles and weaknesses
Each panel carried an illustration - often of the kindly parson himself - and an aphorism that made readers think:
"If you haven't time to help youngsters find the right way in life, somebody with more time will help them find the wrong way."
"Sins are kinda like rabbits - turn a couple of 'em loose and the first thing you know there's a whole bunch of new ones."
"A Bible that's falling apart usually belongs to a person who isn't."
"A young man should never be ashamed of his ancestors - unless he's turning out to be like them."
Clark was born in Elkhart on Oct. 10, 1911, the son of Ralph Atherton Clark, a banker who later sold insurance, and Bethania McKinstry Clark, who died in 1917. The senior Clark remarried, and his second wife, Elizabeth, brought up Frank and his brother, Tom, who was one year older.
As a student in Elkhart, Frank Clark participated in school plays and speech events, says Clark's son, Bruce, of Bellevue. Later in life, Clark would feel at ease when speaking before groups of people about "The Country Parson."
In 1929, Clark enrolled at Drake University, hoping to become a Disciples of Christ minister. Bruce Clark says his dad worked part time as a janitor at the Equitable Building to help meet expenses.
Clark found New Testament and Greek courses difficult, prompting a switch a year later to Drake's Liberal Arts College, where he majored in math and minored in physics.
Graduating in 1933, Clark took a job on the information desk at the Des Moines Register and Tribune. He soon talked his way into writing a science column, selling the Sunday magazine editor on his idea for a weekly feature. Carrying the byline F. Atherton Clark, "Odd, Isn't It?" was based on little-known scientific facts. The success of "Odd, Isn't It?" helped Clark become a features writer.
In 1938, Clark married his high school sweetheart, Gladys, who had become a music teacher. They had three sons, Mark, Paul and Bruce.
In 1941, Clark moved to the Register and Tribune Syndicate as assistant managing editor and was later promoted to managing editor.
In a 1980 interview, Clark told longtime Register and Tribune religion writer William Simbro that "most of the good things that have happened to me in my career happened by accident when I was trying to help someone else."