Last month, the South County lost a longtime champion of the arts community. Mary Lee Clark, local philanthropist and early initiator of Arroyo Grande’s Clark Center for the Performing Arts, passed away Saturday, Feb. 25, at the age of 83.
Born in North Hollywood on Feb. 28, 1928, she married Clifford Clark in 1948, settling down in Arroyo Grande with their three children—Claudia, Chris, and Corki—in 1958. She spent countless hours serving her community, was active in Cub Scouts and 4-H, and volunteered at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital.
The inspiration for what would become the Clark Center came in the late ’70s, after Mary Lee and husband Clifford attended their daughter Corki’s performance in the gym at Arroyo Grande High School. Disenchanted by the harsh lighting, stuffy atmosphere, and hard, uncomfortable seats, the couple agreed a better performance venue for the high school was a must. Through the initial efforts and financial support of the Clarks, and the help of a community of volunteers and donors throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the Clark Center was finally established in 2002. Located on the Arroyo Grande High School campus, the venue has been the South County’s hub for cultural events for the past decade.
Mary Lee continued her support of education and the arts, donating to the San Luis Obispo Youth Symphony, the Exploration Station, and the Grover Beach Community Library. While dedicated to her local community, she was also very well traveled: Together, she and Clifford explored China, Brazil, Turkey, and the Serengeti. At home, her hobbies included bowling at Pismo Bowl and tap-dancing with the senior performance group GRADS.
On Sunday, March 17, at 9 a.m., the Clark Center will be host to a celebration of Mary Lee’s life. In lieu of flowers, guests are encouraged to donate to the Grover Beach Community Library or to the charity of their choice.
“She was amazing,” recalled Clark Center Executive Director Connie O’Henley, who knew Mary Lee for 15 years. “You always knew where you stood with her. She had a huge heart, and wanted to do good in the community.”
In addition to her husband and three children, Mary Lee is survived by eight grandchildren—Jessica, Jillian, Cherice, Lillian, Lydia, Charnelle, William, and Esther—and three great-grandchildren.