Harold and Sue Clark came to Saranac Lake in December 1976. By then, they had been married for 11 years and already had seven young kids: Robert, Lyndon, Kevin, Heather, Peter, Nathan and Rachel. Caleb was born in 1978.
Although they had both been churchgoers, Harold came to Jesus in 1967, Sue in 1970. They were living near Brushton, where Harold's family farmed. Harold remembers: "It was a 'now or never' moment. I stepped out to follow God," Sue said. "I didn't marry a preacher - I married a farmer. When we first came here, Saranac Lake felt too much like a city to me - I was a country girl, I grew up on a farm outside Auburn in the Finger Lakes region. On Olive Street, we lived right in the heart of town. But since then, I've really grown to appreciate the community. It was a great place to raise a family, and I loved the view of the mountains from Olive Street hill."
Harold accepted the call to the ministry in 1973, at an Evangelism Conference in Poughkeepsie. The next step was the Baptist Bible Institute in Graceville, Florida. Harold recalls: "When we returned home (to Brushton), I called my uncle in Florida; he found us a house the next day, for just $35 a month - an incredible price even back then. It was across the border in Alabama, but still close to the school."
"We needed a house since we already had six kids," adds Sue. "They painted it for us before we arrived. Later, we learned that the schools in Hartford, Alabama were better than those across the border in Florida. Alabama accepted the New York license whereas Florida would not, so Harold was able to drive the church bus."
The Clarks came north every summer to work with their home church, the First Christian Church in Brushton. "When I was close to graduation, Jimmy Merck from the Baptist Church in Gouverneur asked us to join him in the ministry. It was a new church so he couldn't offer us a salary," explained Harold. "He found us a home and said, 'If we eat, you eat.' We accepted. This was June, 1976. In December of that year Harold accepted the position as pastor of the Baptist Church in Saranac Lake."
Sue adds: "Rachel was only a month old when we moved here and our youngest son, Caleb, was born here. In 1984, we took in Jennifer. Her parents were separated; when her mom died, her father signed over custody to us. She's our 9th child. We were always taking in people - for weeks, months or longer. Our kids always brought their friends over and the house was always a busy place, teeming with people."
Shirley Hosler attests to that. "Pastor Clark was always helping the homeless - putting them up, feeding them. He was a good neighbor; he helped people fix their roofs and cars. He was there whenever anyone needed help." She calls Harold "the best servant."
Jim Hooley agrees. "Pastor Clark and his wife Sue have been living sacrifices for Jesus Christ, laying their lives down for the church and the community. They're examples of genuine followers of Christ." Indeed, Harold does his best preaching by doing and following the example of Jesus. He has helped numerous folks in this community.
The Clarks have been involved with Christian Builders Ministries International. "We've helped build churches and Christian Life Centers in Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, New York and other states," said Harold. Sue added, "We have worked as volunteers with Disaster Relief. We went to New York City after 9-11." Harold nods. "We literally drove through Rita to get to Katrina, to help in the cleanup and rebuilding effort down there." Jim Bombard, who accompanied them on some of these work trips, says, "Harold can do anything electrical, roofing, farming he's always helping people. I haven't met a finer man in my whole life."
Harold explains the history of the church: "The Saranac Lake Baptist Church had been started in 1968 by Pastor Thom Duncan of the First Christian Church of Brushton, our home church. The pastor before us left in September after just three months here, so there was a need."
When the Clarks arrived in Saranac Lake, the church was meeting in a trailer at the current site. "We lived in the house on Olive Street which had been bought as a parsonage by the church for its first pastor, Thom Duncan, until we built the new parsonage in 2004," said Sue. "Harold was also preaching in Tupper Lake, and I would walk from Olive Street with seven kids in tow to teach Sunday school, because we only had one car."
In 1979, they began work on the current church building. Harold explains: "We already had the 3 acre lot and the trailer. During the summer of 1979 we built the current building on the existing lot. The foundation had been laid earlier, and on the 4th of July, 1979 we started to build. The night before, 3 inches of snow fell on Whiteface. That summer, many church groups from other states came here to help us build. The building was up in two weeks. The older kids helped us finish with putting the remaining shingles on the roof."
Sue adds: "We pushed to have the building finished quickly because we were asked to house ministry teams for the 1980 Winter Olympics. During the Olympics we transported ministry teams in two vans from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid. We ministered to the teams, and the teams ministered to the athletes and tourists in the area. We started with a hot breakfast, packed them a bag lunch and had a hot meal waiting when they returned."
In addition to pastoring the church and teaching Sunday school, Harold drove a school bus. Sue, who has a bachelor's in business education, occasionally substitute taught in addition to raising their large family. She took an active role by leading women's and children's ministry, and has worked around the country training preschool workers for Baptist Sunday schools and Vacation Bible Schools. "Preschoolers learn by example, not by words," Sue explained.
They have started backyard Bible clubs and several women's, men's and youth Bible studies in the area - there is a Bible study or prayer meeting somewhere every night of the week. They've both helped at the Saranac Lake Adult Center, Harold has served on the Evangelism Council and Sue has volunteered with the Interfaith Food Pantry. Harold has been the camp director for the summer camp of the Adirondack Baptist Association, which rents the 4-H camp for two weeks each summer. "This summer, the men have helped to build a new building at the camp, and we hope to be able to use it next summer," he explained.
The Clarks will be moving to the house they have built in the Moira / Brushton area on the farm Harold grew up on. They already have a vegetable garden there that had a nice crop of beans, cucumbers, kohlrabi and other veggies last summer. "Our garden here in Saranac Lake gets devoured by deer; it's better up there," said Sue.
In retirement, Harold and Sue will continue sharing Gods love by example, as they have in the past. "Our vision is to get more Baptist churches started in the Champlain Valley. We also plan to stay involved in prison ministry. It's been delightful seeing some of those fellows come to the Lord and change their lives around."
This article is based on an interview with Harold and Sue Clark. Jim Bombard, Jim Hooley and Shirley Hosler added comments.
Yvona Fast can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.