by Marky Olson '14
These testimonials are an appropriate introduction to understanding the efforts and support that lead to Connie Clark receiving the 2017 Jan Homes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award.
Connie and her computer skills are outrageously spectacular and helpful.
She comes up with great ideas, and then she implements them; she follows through, and she teaches others. She is a team player and she works alone.
Clark transformed Sound Waters University.
Connie is a highly skilled computer programmer who has initiated and led the effort to make our organization a fully functioning electronic one.
She has donated more than 10,000 hours to SWS since joining SWS/BW in 2007.
Many SWS volunteers would say that Connie’s 10,000 hours of support have transformed Sound Waters University, Sound Water Stewards and many other organizations on Whidbey Island. Truly she has married this island paradise and its supportive organizations with technical power that speaks to the public. Linda Ade Ridder, President of the SWS Board, describes exactly what web presence does to make volunteer contributions count and to take the message of Salish Sea stewardship into the future:
Connie’s programming and data management skills have made the many processes in SWS function efficiently and smoothly and with minimal paper. She also has assisted many other environmental groups in our region, including Snohomish Beach Watchers and EcoNet. She has revised our websites, made the Sound Waters University functional and all electronic. Connie has created multiple websites, mailing lists for members, for non-members, for SWU presenters, exhibitors, attendees, and has added payment via computer for donations to our organization. She, with others, has created a skills inventory to learn more about our members, the electronic platform for conducting evaluations of events and ways for our membership to easily enter hours, to know everything about the organization, and to find ways to participate.
Those details are an important component of why SWS has been able to evolve and move forward. How many of us find such an impactful way of reimagining life after retirement? A hearty thank you from all of us, Connie!
So who is the amazingly talented, energetic and giving person behind this whirlwind of contributions?
Connie grew up in upstate New York near the Hudson River, in a home surrounded by woods. That and the fact that she is the oldest of 6 children help explain her organizational skills and her love of nature! With a degree in math, Connie began what would become a 30 year career with Bell Laboratories, including one year at Stanford for a masters in Operations Research, the application of math to real world problems. Shortly after returning to Bell, Connie met Neal. Today, their married son lives in San Francisco and travels the world, working for Facebook.
When retirement beckoned, one of Connie’s sisters encouraged them to head west. With two of Neal’s brothers living on Whidbey, it was natural to investigate. Connie was determined to see any potential home on a typical NW rainy winter day. Thankfully, that didn’t stop them from falling in love with their current home!
Neal and Connie attended Sound Waters University in 2007 and Neal’s first class was How to be a Beach Watcher. Connie fondly remembers that her first Sound Waters University class was taught by Jan Holmes on tides. The 2007 Beach Watchers class welcomed Neal and Connie, although Connie confessed that she didn’t feel her “previous volunteer work” would be impressive enough to get her in Beach Watchers. Wise interviewers noted her 10 years of web experience, and the first week of Beach Watchers training found Neal and Connie working on a team to redesign the website.
While gardening and word puzzles have been Connie’s hobbies in the past, she gets equal enjoyment from applying her design and programming skills to real world problems – to make it easier for teams to accomplish their goals.
And the fun part is that there are always more problems around the corner!
In fact, when asked what has made her proud, Connie said that while she wants others to respect her contributions, she thrives on doing what is right, no matter what others may think. Today Connie feels pride in knowing that both she and Neal have gained deep personal satisfaction from their careers. And she is furthering that feeling of personal contentment by using her abilities to help others now.
The influence of her father becomes very apparent as Connie now faces one of life’s most difficult challenges: a diagnosis of aggressive multiple myeloma in February 2017. Her father’s positive spirit and commitment to rebuilding his life are cherished role models for Connie.
My dad was quiet but respected by all. Sadly, he went blind almost overnight in his late 70s. He woke up one morning and had lost his vision. But he loved bridge and history and reading and he used those skills to rebuild his life, even leading the currents events group at the retirement home. A positive spirit and a great memory became his building blocks.
When asked what small moments in life make her happy, Connie responded with a true beach watcher’s heart:
Being outside when the sun comes out from behind a cloud. It’s always magic to me…and also sitting quietly in the woods.
And Neal makes Connie happy because:
He’s very social and I’m very shy. He’ll take a walk, meet someone new and invite them for dinner! They show up at the house with a questioning look for me, wondering if it is ok that Neal brought strangers to our home! And he cooks. We shared cooking until retirement when Neal took over. And he bakes wonderful sourdough artisan breads.
And finally, Connie’s favorite poem describes the magic that nature brings this beloved islander:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes…