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Clark Beck: A Trailblazer

Dr. Clark Beck was born in Marion, Indiana and there was nothing to indicate this man from humble beginnings would soar through life to become a legend in the transplant community and the professional world in which he excelled. As an African American growing up in the 1930’s and 1940’s, there was no path to success. In fact, there were significant obstacles for Clark and other people of color.

What were the events and impressions in Clark Beck’s life that lifted him to his amazing accomplishments in his 91 years? Sadly, we will never know every facet of his life. Someone should have cornered Clark ten years ago and gathered all his memories to write a story that would truly honor his existence. It is important to note that we are not here to paint arosy, picture-perfect hero. Clearly, Clark was a man whose tenacity and will to succeed allowed him to stand, every time he fell down. I am sure there were many times he sacrificed time with his family to create a path for himself and others to follow. History shows that many of the battles he fought resulted in programs and opportunities for others.

Undoubtedly, one of the most significant decisions Clark made was to travel to the University of Cincinnati (UC) to meet with the dean of UC’s mechanical engineering program. Clark was coming off a bad experience with a major university where he had been informed that his color would make his opportunities impossible. With his undergrad degree from Virginia Union in his pocket, Beck met with Dean Howard Justice in 1951. It was with this support, caution, and encouragement that Beck enrolled in the program. Beck’s time at UC was unbelievably difficult, but he persevered. Maintaining his grades while enduring housing and food challenges did not stop him, and Beck checked off his second major accomplishment with his advanced degree in mechanical engineering in 1955.

Somehow in this marathon of success, Clark found comfort, love, and encouragement from his family. He is survived by his wife Gwendolyn Macon Beck, son Clark Jr., and daughter Angela. Clark had a special relationship with his grandchildren, Emory, Taylor, and Jessye and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and stepchildren. We had the chance to speak with Emory, Clark’s grandson who was particularly close to his grandfather. “In many respects my grandfather was a shining light for me,” said Emory. Pops as he called him, was an inspiration for him over the years. Emory followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and studied mechanical engineering at the University of Cincinnati. Clark also convinced Emory to regularly volunteer for Life Connection, the local organ procurement organization. That leads us to another of Clark Beck’s amazing accomplishments. On October 29, 1972, Clark became a kidney recipient receiving the gift of life at the University of Cincinnati Hospital.

This fiercely independent man did not slow down after his transplant. He proudly mentioned in a piece entitled, My University of Cincinnati Journey, “With this gift, I have seen my two children graduate from high school and college, get married, and give me three grandchildren.” After completing his engineering career at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Clark became a professor at Central State University and assistant dean at Wright State University’s Engineering School. Emory said his grandfather had trouble letting go and fought hard to stay active and not slow down. “In recent years, my mom and I tag-teamed taking care of Clark. I miss taking care of him.” During my last visit to see my grandfather, there was not a lot of actual conversation. Over the years our communications often did not need words. There was an understanding of sorts, that we were saying goodbye. I will never forget his last look,” Emory mentioned.

Bill Ryan, CEO of the Transplant Life Foundation, spoke with Clark in Salt Lake City during the 2018 Transplant Games. During the Opening Ceremony, the foundation was honoring Clark as the oldest athlete at the Games. Ryan said, “I found Clark Beck to be gracious, warm and friendly, with a terrific sense of humor. For him to travel all the way from Ohio to Utah speaks volumes about his determination and desire to compete.” All in all, Clark Beck competed in twelve Dayton Senior Olympic competitions, and nine Transplant Games in the United States.

How do you define the legacy of a man whose accomplishments are astonishing in scope and size? Is it the STEPP program he created to assist and encourage students to following a career in engineering? Is it the trailblazing Clark did to open up doors for students of color in an era when his actions were not acceptable? The honors are substantial, but the mark of this man rests with the doors that he opened for all of us.

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