Honoring the Legacy of Catherine Clark '44
From first grade on, Catherine Clark ’44 knew she wanted to be a teacher.
She taught her entire career in Radford City Schools, leaving a legacy of compassion, warmth, generosity and positivity. Catherine’s son and daughter-in-law, Frank Clark and Palma Clark ’73, M.S. ’77, have chosen to honor that legacy by giving back to Radford University in the form of a scholarship for students pursuing a degree in elementary education.
The many lives Catherine touched through her teaching inspired Frank and Palma to encourage the future generations of teachers in her memory.
Catherine grew up in Radford, Virginia, and attended Radford High School before being accepted into Radford State Teachers College. She was the first college graduate in her family, finishing in 1944 with a B.S. in Elementary Education.
After college, Catherine accepted a job teaching first grade at what she referred to as the “old” McHarg Elementary School. After getting married and having her only son, James Franklin Clark, Jr., Catherine stayed home for a few years before going back to work at Kuhn Barnett Elementary School where she taught both first and second grade.
One of her students at Kuhn Barnett, Mark Clinton, was new to the area when he joined her class in 1970.
“I distinctly remember Mrs. Clark making me feel very welcome in her class and helping me to feel more at home in a new part of the country,” said Mark Clinton. “Mrs. Clark found a way to connect with each and every one of [us] regardless of [our] unique backgrounds.”
Mark says what he remembers most, though, was how kind and patient she was. Catherine was often described this way by her students and their families. Frank and Palma also saw the impact Catherine made on her students; as they describe it, she was made to be a teacher.
“She was able to not only have control and have the students learn what they needed to learn, but also, she had great compassion for them. I think that’s what stood out with her students,” explained Palma. “She was humble, caring and always there for the underdog.”
Catherine continued to teach after leaving Kuhn Barnett. She rounded out her career teaching third grade at the “new” McHarg Elementary School. Mark Lineburg was a student of Catherine’s in the last class she taught before she retired. He described her as one of the most outstanding teachers he’d ever had.
“She always treated us like we were her own children,” said Mark Lineburg. “She was such a kind person. Years later, she would still send me notes. She always recognized me.”
Catherine was known for both remembering and being remembered by her students. At the end of her life, she lived at Commonwealth Assisted Living where her former students would often see her. Palma says it was common for them to tell her she was their favorite teacher.
But it wasn’t just students that felt Catherine’s impact as a teacher and mentor. One of Catherine’s student teachers, Theresa Harkrader, still cherishes the relationship they had.
Theresa taught pre-school at Unity Christian Church, and one year, she had Catherine’s grandson in her class. That Christmas, Catherine’s grandson brought Theresa a gift. Theresa was overjoyed when she opened it and found a floppy-eared bunny and pillow to match, handmade by Catherine. She couldn’t believe Catherine remembered, all those years later, that floppy-eared bunnies were her favorite.
“I could not have asked for anyone to be kinder, and she remained that way throughout her life,” explained Theresa. “When you run across people in your life that are as nice as she was, you don’t forget them. I will never forget her.”
In light of Catherine’s scholarship, Frank and Palma visited Radford’s campus to meet students in the Schoolhouse Living-learning Community. They were proud of the future teachers they met.
“They were really enthusiastic about teaching and why they wanted to teach,” said Frank. “It wasn’t about the money – it was about the kids.”
Catherine taught for 31 years. In addition, she was also a Cub Scouts den mother and a lifelong member of Grove United Methodist Church where she taught Sunday School. Later in life, Catherine would often say that she loved every minute of teaching. She would also say, “Every day I’m alive is a good day.”