An Extraordinary Life: Mom loved Shorewood and helping others
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent September 15, 2013 9:48PM
Leah Clark, formerly of Shorewood, dressed for a Red Hat Society meeting at Sunny Hill Nursing Home in Joliet. | Supplied photo
Updated: October 17, 2013 6:11AM
Patti Churchill of Braidwood speaks with pride about a 4-foot-by-8-foot crocheted American flag that her mother, Leah Clark of Joliet, made to hang inside the Shorewood village hall during America’s bicentennial in 1976.
The Clarks were one of Shorewood’s founding families, and Raymond “Pat” Clark — Leah’s husband and Churchill’s father — was Shorewood’s first mayor.
“He passed away in 1959, after only a little over a year in office, leaving my mother with three children still to raise and a married daughter with a young son,” Churchill said. “She remained in Shorewood most of the rest of her life, until moving to Sunny Hill Nursing Home in 2008. In her heart, Shorewood was always her home.”
The family’s Turtle Street home was originally a garage Pat Clark had built to store a truck when he worked for the state, Churchill said. Leah saw a rendering of an L-shaped house in the Herald-News, so Pat added on to that garage to create the family homestead.
After Pat’s sudden death, Leah supported her four children — Churchill, the late Leanne McKanna, Raymond Clark of Joliet, and Larry Clark of Rhode Island — by working first as a waitress at the former Lyman’s Cafe in Shorewood and later as cafeteria manager for Troy Shorewood School.
“There were at least three occasions where women that she knew, for whatever reason, needed a place to stay for awhile, so she took them in temporarily and didn’t charge them to stay with us,” Churchill said. “That was exactly the kind of person she was. She couldn’t stand to see anyone in need.”
Leah so loved Shorewood that she served as an election judge until about 10 years ago, when she began relying on a wheelchair. Still, not even declining health could keep Leah from her crocheting projects, Churchill said.
Leah crocheted a christening gown for a friend who used it for all three of her children. She always won first prize, Churchill said, at the annual doll-decorating contest at the former First National Bank downtown Joliet branch — except the year Leah won a grand prize with a crocheted bridal gown.
Leah, Churchill said, was still crocheting lap blankets that Sunny Hill gave away for Bingo prizes — and she was working puzzle books, too — up until a few weeks before her death on July 21 at the age of 93.
Her dedication spread into other areas of her life. Leah was a member of the Church of St. Jude in Joliet, where Raymond Clark is a deacon. She was a daily reader of the Herald-News and had saved many clippings from John Whiteside’s columns.
Always rooting for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series, Leah attended her first game at age 8 and her last near her 90th birthday. A family member bought a brick in Leah’s name, which is on the walkway outside Wrigley Field, Churchill said.
Having built a legacy of devotion — Leah had 18 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren — Leah spent her final days surrounded with that love.
A friend suggested Churchill “look for the number 11,” as it was a sign of angels.
“She died at 11 o’clock,” Churchill said, “so now every time we see ‘11,’ we think of Mom.”
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