EVERETT – Her colleagues at Everett Community College will take with them many enduring images of Cynthia Clarke, a determined anthropology instructor with high standards, a remarkable work ethic and a knack for lightening the wallet.
They will remember walking by her office, whether it was 6 a.m. or 11:30 p.m., and knowing that she was there. They will remember the lines of students outside her door and the time she took with each to review the first drafts of the papers they were writing.
In their memories, they will see her approach them with an outstretched hand, palm up, looking for money to support one student program after another. They’ll trade stories about her huge class load, often four, five, or six classes, while the wait was three.
And they’ll laugh at the wandering landmark that her car was: a stripped-down white 1995 Geo Metro with a gearshift and crank windows that she’s driven around campus for the past quarter-century.
“When people say she’s a force of nature, it’s absolutely true,” said Eugene McAvoy, dean of communication and social science at the college. “She was the standard by which I measure my own performance and will continue to measure my own performance.”
Clarke, who joined the faculty in 2000, continued teaching through the fall term, hoping but unable to gain the upper hand from ovarian cancer. The resident of Mukilteo died on Monday. She was 63 years old.
Dozens of tributes poured into social media, and college staff working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic took the time to call each other and mourn the loss of a character among them.
“She gave and gave and gave, and I don’t even think most people know how much she gave,” said Debe Franz, senior associate professor in the college’s transitional studies division. “She gave him time, and she gave money, and she demanded quality.”
Franz worked with Clarke on the college’s study abroad program in Indonesia. The money Clarke earned from the work she did at the counseling center was set aside to create scholarships so that as many students as possible could go on the trip. Clarke handled all of the education abroad fundraising and often bought the supplies with her own money, or paid the students for their time with the money she had set aside.
When Franz and Clarke visited a Christian orphanage in Bali in 2016, Clarke, an atheist, began sponsoring at least two children there. She also helped pay the school fees for a young island woman who was studying to be a doctor.
Visakan Ganeson, associate vice president for international education, also worked with Clarke to build links between the college and Indonesia. He grew up admiring Clarke’s tenacity.
“You’ll never see her in the spotlight,” Ganeson said, speaking of her in the present tense. “I don’t think she likes it there, but she’s at the forefront when it comes to defending the students. She’s not at all shy about it. If there is an image that I have in my head, without fail, each time I passed it, it held out its palm. The palm extension was: ‘Give me the money. Give me some money for the students.
And Ganeson would eventually give in. It would have been too difficult to say no.
Mark Clarke is the brother of Cynthia Clarke. He can understand that he was heavily armed by his sister, whose real name was Cindy Jo, but she never really cared.
She was 13 and he was 11 when their parents bought a ceramic store in Sioux City, South Dakota. The brothers and sisters worked there for 25 cents an hour in the 1970s. He remembers the time very well: “I did most of the work and she did the boss …” he said with affection. “She did what she wants and that’s what I will remember every day for the rest of her life.”
In his bank of childhood memories, he sees his sister at home by the oven, still reading. Book after book after book.
A straight student, Cynthia Clarke graduated from high school on Christmas of her senior year. She was 17 when she joined the Navy. His parents couldn’t afford to send the kids to college, but they really wanted them to get a good education. For Cynthia Clarke, the Navy would be the ticket to her tuition fees.
She received her associate’s degree from Southwest Oregon Community College, her bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University, her master’s degree from the University of Oregon, and her doctorate from the University of Hawaii. Her thesis was based on 18 months she spent in the Solomon Islands, learning to speak Pidgin in a Catholic convent before immersing herself among the tribes studying their medicinal practices.
Returning to the United States, she spent time in the hospital with malaria and several infections in her hair and feet. It was this experience in the field that convinced her that teaching would be a meaningful vocation. She started at Bremerton Olympic College before moving to Everett.
Married and divorced, she had no children. His working world has become the classroom.
“That was it for her,” her brother said. “Once she started teaching, it was her life. It was everything for her, from sunrise to sunset.
Cathie Wamsley, Administrative Assistant for the Communications and Social Sciences Division, was impressed with Clarke’s flexibility in modifying and updating courses to meet student needs. This included a re-emphasis on linguistics, college officials said.
Wamsley’s daughter took classes with Clarke, who had a column describing the expectations for each assignment. She often displayed a skeleton in her classroom when students asked about upcoming homework. The skeleton was wearing a T-shirt that read, “It’s in the program.”
“The students who took his classes were very well prepared to go to a four-year school,” Wamsley said. “She really prepared the students to enter nursing and be ready for this heavy and intense level of learning or to transfer to a four-year college.
Along the way, Clarke started a scholarship on behalf of her parents and introduced service learning where students contributed to causes outside of the classroom. She also resisted the idea of removing the word community from the name Everett Community College, a trend in other schools. She believed that the college was a reflection of the community it serves.
Clarke was hoping to return to her native South Dakota after retiring from the winter in the South Pacific Islands. She will be buried at Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, South Dakota, next to her parents and other loved ones.
“My brothers will be there next to her someday to keep an eye on her and my parents,” said Mark Clarke.
Eric Stevick: [email protected]