PENN YAN — Stanley Clark had been retired as director of the Yates County Veterans Service Agency for about 10 years when his close friends, Jack Clancy and P. Earle Gleason, thought of another role for him.
“Earle and I were talking about Stan one day and we thought, ‘Here’s a guy who has all the right attributes to be state commander of the American Legion,’” said Clancy, a longtime member of Johnson-Costello Post 355 in Penn Yan along with Clark and Gleason.
So, after talking with Clark, Clancy called Dick Pedro, Department of New York adjutant (executive director) for the Legion.
“Lo and behold, in 2005-06 Stanley Clark became state Legion commander,” said Gleason, now a Yates County legislator. “He was the first member from our post and the first from Yates County to serve in that role, and today remains the only person from the county to do so.”
Clark, who later served on the Legion’s national executive committee and was known as a staunch advocate for veterans in Yates County and beyond, died last month at the age of 85. He also was director of the county Veterans Service Agency from 1974-94.
“I was fortunate to work with Stan for a couple of years just prior to his retirement,” said longtime county Legislator Doug Paddock, now chairman of the Legislature. “Stan would take money out of his own pocket to help the veterans he served. He was a real gentleman and will be missed by all, especially the veterans’ community.”
Clark was born in Penn Yan in 1935. He was a 17-year-old Geneva High School student in 1952 when he enlisted in the Army during the Korean War. He completed his high school education while on active duty and served with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea until the war ended.
He proudly made the Army his first career and later served two tours in Vietnam, where he was captain of a tugboat on the Mekong River. He earned numerous medals before retiring in 1972 with the rank of sergeant.
He returned to Penn Yan that year and joined the local Legion post. It was there he met Gleason, a Vietnam veteran as well.
Clark was hired two years later as director of the Veterans Service Agency, which helps veterans with their benefits. Clancy was on the Legislature at that time and the county’s budget officer.
“As budget officer I had to work with all of the department heads. Stan was my favorite because he never asked for anything,” Clancy said. “If every department was like Stan’s, we never would have raised taxes.”
In fact, Clancy said Clark got plenty of mileage out of an old, military-style metal chair in his office that was used by visitors.
“Instead of asking for a new chair when the padding wore out, he took duct tape and wrapped it around the arms of the chair for padding. Let’s just say Stan was very frugal,” Clancy said with a laugh. “We gave him that chair as a gift at his retirement party. Everyone got a laugh out of that.”
While veterans who went to see Clark may not have had comfortable seating, they definitely found an ally.
“Stanley was a great advocate for veterans in the county,” Gleason said. “His heart and soul was in that job.”
“Stan’s mission in life was to help his fellow veterans. You could see that in everything he did,” Clancy added. “I think he was exactly the right person to run the Veterans Service Agency in Yates County, and he did it well for 20 years because he had that compassion. There was a time when Schuyler County did not have anyone at their Veterans Service Agency, and Stan volunteered to go there once a week to hold things together until they could hire someone.”
Several months before he retired, Clark hired Gleason to work in his office. Gleason became the director after Clark retired and did the job for more than 20 years, often relying on Clark for advice.
“Stan was a mentor,” Gleason said. “The first morning I went into that office and knew Stanley wasn’t going to be there, I was scared to death.”
For the Legion, Clark became commander of the Penn Yan post, Yates County commander and 7th District commander for the region. As state Legion commander for his one-year term, he visited every Legion post in the state for lunches and dinners and spoke at all those events.
Clancy was his primary aide during that time, driving Clark around the state in a Legion-issued vehicle. Gleason sometimes spelled Clancy on weekends.
“Stan grew into that public speaking role, although he was not a big speechmaker. We were on the road most of the week,” Clancy said. “He was probably my best friend and we were together day and night. Stan would always sit in the back seat while I drove — he called it his traveling office.”
While Clancy described Clark’s demeanor as “low key,” he said his friend had a good sense of humor.
“He had this stinky cologne that he sprayed on my Legion hat,” Clancy said.
During and after serving as state commander and on the Legion’s national executive committee, Clark attended Legion conventions across the country. Clancy was with him at most.
“As Stan got older, everyone would come over and say hello to him,” Clancy said. “He relished that so much.”
Clark moved to Canandaigua later in life, and even as his health worsened he met regularly with Clancy and Gleason for coffee at Kershaw Park when the weather was nice.
“We stayed close. Stanley and I actually share the same birthday (Jan. 21),” Gleason said. “The three of us were great friends.”
There is now a memorial to Clark, built largely by one of his sons, at Johnson-Costello. It includes many Legion hats Clark wore over the years, including his hats as state commander and a national committee representative.
“The Legion has been in Penn Yan since 1919, and during that time we have had only one state commander — that was Stan,” Clancy said. “The Legion was his life.”