Every small town in America has had a tragedy in some way, shape or form — a moment in history when people will reflect and remember it as if it happened yesterday.
Clearfield is no exception.
Karin (Robb) Miller, formerly of Goshen, now lives in Gettysburg. Miller contacted The Progress several months ago, inquiring about submitting her late sister’s obituary for publication.
After Patricia (Robb) Radonovich’s death, Miller took on the task of going through her sister’s possessions.
“I came upon the enclosed picture, and could not bear to throw it away,” Miller said in a recent letter to The Progress, accompanied by an 8.5 x 11 vintage photo of a young girl wearing a strapless blue gown — obviously dressed up for a formal dance.
The girl in the photo is Mary Gail Clark, 16, who was killed 61 years ago in a tragic car crash on her way to cheer for the Clearfield High School Bison wrestling team at a match against State College High School. Clark was eight days away from her 17th birthday.
Miller asked The Progress to help her find Clark’s relatives who might still be living in the region — and pass along the photo. Miller’s sister and Clark were best friends in high school, Miller said.
According to an archived copy of the Feb. 4, 1957 edition of The Progress, on Feb. 2, 1957, Clark was one of five Bison cheerleaders riding with two high school staff members in the district-owned Driver’s Education vehicle when the vehicle skidded on an icy roadway two miles west of Port Matilda. The vehicle spun around a few times, hit an oncoming car, went over an embankment about five feet high, and flipped over into a ditch and field along the road.
Four cheerleaders were sitting in the rear seat of the car, and the two employees and a fifth cheerleader were in the front seat. Edwin Kammerer, a math teacher at the high school, was driving the car. John “Jerry” Wilson, a member of the school’s maintenance department, was ejected from the vehicle along with Valerie Peterson, 17.
In addition to Clark, Thelma Graham, 18, of Clearfield, was killed in the crash. Clark was dead on arrival at Philipsburg State Hospital and Graham died shortly after arrival. In addition to Wilson, Kammerer and Peterson, two others were seriously injured — cheerleaders Joan Weaver, 17, and Jean Lewis, 16.
The driver of the other vehicle was also injured.
“What happened (to Mary) and to all of those involved is very touching,” Miller said. “It brings tears to my eyes as I remember the incident.”
According to the story, Clark’s brother, Sam, had already wrestled when news of the crash filtered to the State College and Clearfield communities. Progress sports editor Earl Caldwell came upon the crash shortly after it occurred, and was the one who notified former Clearfield School District Superintendent S.F.W. Morrison, who then notified the families of the victims.
“By the standards of today’s horrible mass killings, this may not sound at all that bad, but for a small community like Clearfield was at the time, and our little community of Goshen, it was heartbreaking,” Miller said.
She added that Clark was one of 12 children who lived in the Goshen area. According to her obituary, Clark was a daughter of Leo E. and Iva Christine (Taylor) Clark of Goshen. She was survived by 11 brothers and sisters at the time: Marvin, Jack, Ralph, Samuel, Walter, David, Daniel, Twila, Kathern, Delores and Vivian.
“We all sort of scattered to the winds after graduation so I don’t know if any of her family still lives in the area,” Miller wrote. “Maybe if you could publish an article about the incident, someone would come forward and claim the picture. I just could not throw it away.”
Any family members of Mary Clark who would like to claim the photo can contact The Progress newsroom at 765-7813 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.