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Remembering 100 years with Jargo Clark

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

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The Van H. Priest Company had 20 stores throughout North Florida and South Georgia until 1985, when the last stores closed. This picture was taken during a store manager's meeting, c.1935.

Anytime a person reaches the milestone of their 100th birthday, that is reason enough to celebrate. When asked what he planned to do in order to celebrate this year, Jargo Clark - who will be turning 100 on Monday, Dec. 4, says “Probably not much.” That is the kind of humility Clark exudes on a daily basis. Although Clark is very careful to avoid even the appearance of boasting, Clark's long life has been one of accomplishment, and more importantly, service to others. “I've always liked helping others. You cannot do something for someone else without doing something for yourself at the same time,” said Clark.

Jargo Clark

Clark, whose given name is William B. Clark, grew up in Blountstown, Fl. Clark received the moniker “Jargo” at a very early age. When Clark was about two or three years old, his family took him to the Mighty Hag Shows Circus, from Albany, Ga. The circus had a clown named “Jargo,” of whom Clark was instantly terrified. Afterward, whenever Clark would misbehave, he was told, “Gonna get that Jargo after you.” Clark heard it so much that he began to be called “Jargo.” Later he decided to just keep the name “Jargo,” as it was much shorter than William Burton.

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William B. “Jargo” Clark, c.1945

In 1938, as a young man, Clark made his way to Madison in order to work for

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Eunice Priest, the oldest daughter of Van H. Priest, was married to Jargo Clark for nearly 71 years.

his uncle, Henry Messer. At the time, Clark was a pre-med student at the University of Alabama. While in Madison, Clark met a beautiful young lady named Eunice Priest, and he never made it back to medical school. Eunice was the oldest daughter of Van H. Priest, founder of the Van H. Priest Company. Jargo and Eunice began a marriage that would last over 70 years. Jargo and Eunice had four children, Rosemary Clark-Stiefel, William B. Clark, IV, Peggy Clark, and Elizabeth Clark-Rotter. Soon after Jargo and Eunice were married, Jargo began working for his father-in-law.

The Van H. Priest Co. had a chain of 20 department stores scattered throughout North Florida and South Georgia. Clark worked for the company from the fall of 1939 until 1985. During that time, Clark travelled around the area helping the individual stores with sales, while his father-in-law stayed at the company headquarters in Madison in order to “keep the money flowing.” The Van H. Priest stores were known for having merchandise that was reasonably priced that most people could afford. Christmas was an especially busy time at the Van H. Priest stores. “Mr. Priest always worked in the store downtown on Christmas Eve,” said Clark. “On Christmas Eve, those stores would be packed.”

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Van H. Priest always worked in the store on Christmas Eve, according to Jargo Clark. Here Priest can be seen (in the white shirt, behind the counter) working in the Van H. Priest and Co. store in Madison on Christmas Eve, 1960.

Outside his work with Van H Priest Co., Clark has been deeply involved in many community organizations; most notably, the Madison Rotary Club. In fact, Clark was the driving force behind the Madison Rotary Club getting started. At the urging of a Rotarian from the Perry, Fl. Rotary Club, Clark helped form the Madison Rotary Club with 16 members, most of whom were veterans just returned home from World War II. Over the years since, the Madison Rotary Club has been an integral part of the Madison community, helping to make life better for many of her residents.

Since 1958, Clark has also been deeply involved with the Southern Scholarship Foundation, which helps provide housing for deserving college and university students around the state. Through the years, the Southern Scholarship Foundation has provided assistance to over 12,000 college students, including over 500 from Madison County. Currently, the Southern Scholarship Foundation has scholarship houses, providing housing assistance to needy students, at five universities around the state.

Throughout his long life, Clark has always been willing to help someone, when and wherever he could. One such instance had an effect that even Clark could not have foreseen. The story goes back to the time when Clark would travel to New York City to attend a toy show every year. One particular year, he made the acquaintance of a

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Last minute Christmas shoppers crowd into the Van H. Priest store in Madison on Christmas Eve, 1960.

representative from Parker Brothers who happened to be from Baton Rouge, La. Clark was one of the first customers this young representative had, and they continued a friendship over the years as this young sales representative made his way up the ladder for Parker Brothers. A few years later, Clark was in New York on another of his trips to the toy show when he met a gentleman while waiting to board a subway train back to the motel. Clark noticed this man had what appeared to be playing cards in his bag, and Clark said to him, “You must be a toy buyer, and someone has given you a game.” The man explained that he was a barber from Cincinnati, and he had invented a card game he enjoyed playing with his grandchildren. The man said the game had been popular with customers in his barber shop, and he had been encouraged to bring his game to the toy show. The man had taken his entire savings ($8,000) and had used the money to make professional looking copies of his game, but no one had expressed any interest during the four days he had been in New York. He told Clark the thing he dreaded most was having to face his wife and tell her he had spent their entire savings on a “silly game.” Clark felt sorry for the man and decided to try and help. Clark took out one of his cards and wrote the name of his friend at Parker Brothers on the back and instructed the man to get in touch with Clark's friend and asked if he would, as a favor to Clark, take a look at the game and see if it was worthwhile. The man decided to give it one more try. After meeting with Clark's friend, the man had a meeting with the legal department of Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers bought the game for $50,000 and agreed to pay the man, Merle Robbins, a royalty of ten cents for every copy of the game sold. The name of the card game – Uno.

Clark's life of humble service to others serves as an example to us all. As Clark reminds us, “You cannot do something for someone else without doing something for yourself at the same time.” Happy birthday, Jargo.

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