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February 12, 1999

I spent a most enjoyable afternoon recently visiting with Esther Clark at her comfortable home on North Eleventh street. Esther proudly announces that she is "ninety-seven and a half years old," and, my friends, we all should be as sharp as that dear lady. She is compelled to use a wheelchair to move around the house but she insists that is not a problem. Normally she has a companion in the house during the day and a lady who spends the night there, just in case they are needed, and caring relatives are close at hand. Esther has faced some serious health problems during her long life but each time she has bounced back with renewed vitality and a sense of gratitude for the role she fills.

Esther produced a scrapbook crammed full of mementos -- newspaper clippings of historic events, poetry, photographs and assorted souvenirs -- all related to special people or events in her life, and she provided a running commentary about each one. Her memory is very clear. The early years of this fading century are still vivid in her mind's eye.

Mrs. Clark's parents, Henry and Etta Isham, came to Perry from Iowa a few years after the 1893 run, and her father selected a quarter-section north of Perry, across the Black Bear Creek, for their home. He had been a farmer in Iowa and he raised a wheat crop here, but buying and selling cattle were his special interest. In the Depression years the Ishams were more or less broke, like everyone else, but Esther says they never went hungry because they raised all the food they needed, and then some. To help relieve the economic stress, Mrs. Isham and her two daughters, Esther and Ora, sold eggs and hand-churned butter to homes in Perry. Mrs. Clark still has one of the two-pound butter molds her mother used.

After completing the eighth grade, many students of her era considered their education complete, but Esther says there was never any doubt that she would go on to high school in Perry. School buses and paved roads were unknown at that time, so Esther rode her horse eight miles each day to reach the school, using the dirt roads that criss-crossed the county. One particular day a heavy rainfall caused the Black Bear to flood from its north banks, near the eventual location of Harold Clark's John Deere dealership. Only a low water bridge was provided so crossing was doubly perilous. Esther remembered her father's instruction: If in doubt about the way to proceed, give the horse his head and he will find the safe way. She tossed the reins onto her horse's mane and he stepped out, gingerly testing the force of the water and the footing below, but bringing them safely to the other side.

Reaching the family home minutes later, Esther took the horse to the barn and was rubbing him down when Father Isham appeared. After ascertaining that his daughter was all right, he examined the high water mark on the animal and admonished her never again to try crossing a raging stream that deep on horseback.

In the 1930s Mr. Isham served as sheriff of Noble county. The family moved into Perry, settling in a gracious two-story home at the corner of Ninth and Locust, where Jim and Linda Franklin now live. Esther and her sister both became school teachers and Esther remembers that in 1917-18, when the U.S. entered the first World War, anti-German sentiment was very strong. A rural school southeast of Perry served the many families with German national backgrounds, and German was the language spoken there. The school was closed because of that feeling, and some of the young people were assigned to her school. She took special pains to help them because of the language problem. All the families involved were well-regarded in this community.

Esther eventually moved to Pennsylvania while Ora took up residence in New Mexico and later in El Paso, Texas. Some 40 years later, when their father had passed away and their mother was in frail health, Esther came back to Perry to stay. As she recounts such incidents, her eyes sparkle and a smile lights her face, and you just know that she is reliving them with the telling. We are fortunate to have folks like Esther still in our midst, ready and willing to tell us about the way things were as they saw history unfold nearly a century ago. I borrowed Esther's scrapbook and I'm sure it's going to yield some nuggets for future Northwest Corners. I'll keep you posted.