The Legacy of Paul Clarke

by Harriett Inskeep

The Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne is now celebrating its 100th anniversary. Philanthropy is a very serious business but it also captures the imagination and touches the heart. It is deeply connected to people and to research and to results, and it also provides  a “get up in the morning with a grin” kind of feeling.  It’s a selective process, tough decisions, hard choices, designated funding, not for the faint of heart. And when I think of philanthropy, I remember Paul Clarke.

Paul and his wife Helen came to Ft. Wayne in 1954 for his new role as the corporate attorney for North American Van Lines. Already in his fifties, Paul enjoyed the adventure and enthusiasm of a new job and a new city. He was an active participant in community affairs, holding leadership roles, and played a key role in the growth of his company. By 1970 Paul was ready for a new challenge. He retired from NAVL and took on the role of Executive Director of the Ft. Wayne Community Foundation, which he had previously served as board chairman. It was obvious that he brought enthusiasm and a sort of joyful expectation to this group, and he began to explore and to use his personal resources  for it. In 1971 Paul and Helen began their contributions to FWCF. When later Barbara Burt assumed, to his delight, the role of Executive Director, Paul stayed involved. He also recruited Joyce Schlatter as a volunteer grant advisor, one of his best ideas he would later say.

By the close of l99l Paul and Helen had donated over 8 million dollars to the FWCF for the Advised  Clarke Endowment Fund. He was considering another 8 million, but the Foundation could not accept more than 2 million of that without jeopardizing its public charity status (it would become the Clarke Foundation). And so, in 1992, Paul created a subsidiary foundation, the Paul Clarke Foundation, to operate for 15 years before its assets flowed in to the Clarke Endowment Fund. Philanthropy can get complicated!

At that point, in 1992, Paul arranged a meeting with me. He asked that I serve with him as co-advisor to the Clarke Endowment and as President and a board member of the Paul Clarke Foundation.   And thus began my close association with this man whom I grew to admire and to cherish.

Paul was such a character in so many ways. He had an elfin humor, an ironic wit, and a somewhat crusty outward appearance which could dissolve into a delightful ornery grin at any moment. He was also a man deeply committed to helping others and to making Fort Wayne a stronger more concerned city. He believed in the concept of charitable giving and thought the community foundation is the key to its effectiveness, that it has the ability to judge funding priorities.

Paul himself lived in a very modest way. And he was always gleeful when he got a bargain. His office space in his later years just delighted him.  Helen Keenan gave him a room in a little upstairs office next to the now-downtown Arby’s—and when that building was torn down, Ivan Lebamoff gave him a “deal”  on a 2nd floor space in the Macedonian Building. He also loved driving his little red sports car, and when he climbed into it, you felt the same youthfulness he must have felt.

Paul died in 1997 at the age of 96. His estate gave even more funds to the Clarke Endowment, and so the legacy he leaves will live on. It is my strongest wish that all of us—and the generations to come—will know that Paul Clarke made Ft. Wayne a better place just because he was here. He was a man whose life truly made a difference, really a one-of-a-kind guy.