Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Stan Story

Below is an article I wrote for the 2009 December issue of Walla Walla Union Bulletin's Lifestyles magazine. It was four years ago today that Stan left us. Actually, he really didn't "leave us" as he seems to have a way of popping up when you least expect it.

In fact, just last month I was visiting with Joan, a friend/wine distributor and her significant other, Mark. We were sitting in the back of the shop sampling some new wines and Mark, happened to look up at a photo hanging on the wall. I noticed him staring at it a few times. Mark, who at this time is residing in California, finally said, "Can I ask who that man is in the photo?"

Well, the photo is one many of you are familiar with. It's a photo of Stan Clarke in his "Skipper/Gorton Fisherman" yellow rain gear. One of the originals hangs on a wall at the Enology Viticulture Institute at Walla Walla Community College. Mark kept commenting about how he had seen the photo before. Finally, he asked if the man in the photo was originally from California and had ever been a student at UC Davis. Of course, I answered that he had. Then Mark asked if Stan had a sister by the name of Judy. I answered I thought that he did.

All of a sudden, Mark's eyes lit up, "I know where I have seen that photo before! There is a copy of it at my neighbor's house." he said, "His sister Judy is my neighbor, and in fact, she is taking care of my cat while I am up here in Washington State!"

He immediately called Judy and told her where he was. Mark handed his cell phone to me and I had the pleasure of visiting with Judy. Of course, we talked about her brother Stan and she thanked me for writing about him. It was an honor that she had read my story about her brother.

Now, the cynic in me doesn't necessarily cling onto the beliefs that there are ghosts and guardian angels. However, I never discount them either. There have been some rough days in my life where I may even question if there is a heaven other than those "heavenly" days we have in our lives. But what I can tell you about my belief system is there are no coincidences. Everything happens for a reason.

"The Stan Story"
"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance…” - Flavia Weedn

In the last few months, while interviewing wine-industry people around the Valley, one name kept coming up in.

Stan Clarke was often the motivator behind many personal accomplishments in the local wine business. When I told people Stan figured prominently in my life, they would tell me  their “Stan Story.”

If there was one person who could weave people together, it was Stan Clarke.

Stan came into our lives in January, 2002 as the new associate director and viticulture instructor at the new Institute of Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. Former students at the college, now winemakers, recounted how before their first day at the college Stan had a job waiting for them, and sometimes even a place to live. A new student told me how he felt regret about not having Stan as an instructor, but felt his presence by the stories others shared.

Scott Wolfram (local attorney and county court commissioner) first met Stan at a home winemaking class at WWCC and when the class wasn’t offered again, Stan continued tutoring Wolfram. When 20-year-old Ben Wolfram became interested in his dad’s “science project,” he contacted Stan. The Wolfram’s had new neighbors - - Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe of SuLei Cellars - - who were getting into the wine business and Stan knew about the new neighbors before the Wolframs did. Stan introduced his neighbors, and Ben Wolfram got his wine project off the ground by using their grape crusher-destemmer.

Later, owners Woodley and Jomwe would dedicate their first wine release with proceeds donated to the Stan N. Clarke Memorial Scholarship Fund at Walla Walla Community College.

Me? I have my own Stan stories. One Saturday, Stan showed up at my front door with 100 pounds of crushed cabernet sauvignon announcing I was going to make wine in my dining room.

When I had anxiety about juggling a full load and intern hours at the college, besides working full-time at an office and part-time at a winery, all while recovering from major surgery, I sought Stan's counsel. He said, “If you fail, I fail. I am not going to fail.”

Oh sure, Stan had his prickly side, which made for even better stories.

Whenever a student, mentioned "pinot noir," we learned to duck because whatever was in Stan’s hand at the time would fly across the classroom. Pinot Noir was the bane of vineyards and cellars, as far as he was concerned.

Stan was known to wear socks that didn’t match and no chocolate chip cookie was safe in his presence. Sometimes he looked as if he slept in his clothes – and for awhile, he did – in a camper parked at the college, until his family could move from Grandview, WA.

The last words Stan said to me were at a reception at the college for a Wall Street Journal reporter who was writing an
article about the Institute. Stan had invited every student and former student of the program. I caught up with him while he was busy washing glasses. When I commented about the enthusiastic turnout. He said, “I thought this was a great opportunity for a reunion. Don’t you think we should do this more often?”

And we did. After that gathering, Stan Clarke left us on November 29, 2007 at the age of 57. All his students, current and former, gathered at the college to say goodbye.

Stan came into our lives and quickly left, but for the short time he was with us, he wove all of us together. He is still moving our souls and inspiring us every time we retell our own "Stan Story."

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