“In many ways we are a product of the environment in which we live,” says Elder Clarke. “I was born in Idaho in 1927, so I started school right in the middle of the Depression. It was a time of severe hardship for my family and many other families. After Dad lost his farm, we moved into the city of Rexburg.
“All the time I was growing up, my father worked seven days a week. He would go to work at two or three o’clock in the afternoon and return at four o’clock in the morning. Dad would sleep until noon, and I’d be in school, but he always came home so we could have our evening meal together. And even though I didn’t get to spend much time with him, Dad was my rock foundation. He was always a symbol of stability and patience. Whenever I was sick, I wanted his hand on my forehead to check my temperature and I wanted to hear his soothing words. He never panicked. He always seemed to have great wisdom. His counsel was always about integrity, and dependability, and reliability, and working and paying for what you get.
“I think of my mother as my spiritual mentor. I am the last of seven children. She had pleaded with the Lord for one more son, and she said that I was the answer to her prayer.
“Mother had a great relationship with the Lord. I remember the quality of her humble and sensitive prayers. Her tutelage helped me to gain a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. I found the story of Joseph Smith very easy to believe. I never had a doubting mind or heart, and I have to credit my mother for my positive attitude.
“Primary was fun. I liked the music and the activities we had. I always had the feeling that I was loved. I liked the home-made candy we would make at my teacher’s home. I can still visualize the oilcloth-covered table that my Primary teacher dropped the divinity fudge onto after she had beaten it until it was very smooth.
“In my family we children had to provide our own money. I believe that the things I’ve learned most indelibly came from the mistakes I made. The first year I thinned sugar beets, I learned a good lesson. When beets have grown an inch or two above the ground, they have to be singled out with a short-handled hoe. Bending over from the waist from early morning to late at night is a very tiring job. That first day, after receiving my instructions, I made up my mind that nobody was going to beat me, so I kept up with everybody. When I finished my first row, I saw the owner of the farm running toward me. When he got down to where I was standing, he told me that my work was absolutely unacceptable. I apologized to the farmer, and then I had to suffer the humiliation of people chuckling while I walked all the way back down to the end of the row to redo it. I learned then that it’s not how fast you can do something but how well you do it that counts. That was one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned.
“When I was in the seventh grade, I had a shoeshine business in a barbershop. In return for the use of a chair, I had to keep the shop cleaned. I had to furnish all my own shoe polish and other such things, and I learned some very good marketing lessons.”
Elder Clarke has a twofold message to leave with the children of the Church: “First, I can’t stress too much the necessity for members of the Church to be honest and to always tell the truth. You’re never free of the burden of guilt until you admit it and apologize and make it right.
“Second, choose your friends wisely. Your circle of acquaintances can have a great impact on your life. Some of the most important decisions you will make are those made in choosing your friends. I would like to suggest that the best friends are those who expect the most from you and expect you to perform at a high level of achievement.”