Faces In the Crowd: Alpha “Doc” Clark

October 4, 2018

By Aaron Michell

In 1958, Alpha Clark Jr. graduated from Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Ever since, he has simply been known as “Doc”.
Doc grew up on the Clark family farm near Big Lake in Sears, Michigan. A good student, Clark was taught the importance of discipline and work ethic from a young age. Although he did enjoy the occasional game of ping-pong or boxing match as a youth, his parents, Alpha Sr. and Elsie, raised him under the instruction that if you’re not learning, you’d better be working.
And work he has.
Still going strong at age 84, Clark, along with his daughter Linda, run the Tri County Veterinary Clinic out of the same hospital that he built back in 1961. He still lives right next door, in the same house that he and his late wife, Marlene, spent most of their 48 years together.
In nearly 60 years of practice at his McBain shop, Doc has seen plenty.
He’s seen plenty of adventures: Such as the time he was squirted in the face by Denver Hughston’s rodeo skunk, upon attempting to remove its scent glands.
He’s seen plenty of heartache: it still makes him very sad having to put down any pet, because he knows empathy and he feels the hurt for the pet owner.
But he’s also seen plenty of good: There’s nothing more rewarding to him then to see an animal he’s treated get better.
And yet he’s also seen catastrophe.
In the 1970s, Doc Clark became internationally known during the PBB (polybrominated biphenyl) contamination crisis that affected so many Midwest farms during the decade. It was his intuition, know-how, and research while treating animals that led to the discovery of the PBB contaminated feed, and the subsequent crisis that devastated so many farms, while wiping out tens of thousands of livestock.
His years of research and analysis – some 12 boxes worth of detailed findings – is now available for study in the Clarke Historical Library on the campus of Central Michigan University. To this day, the effects of PBB continue to be examined – in both humans and livestock – with researchers all over the world relying on his data; data taken from many Missaukee and Osceola county farms that saw the catastrophe first hand.
And while Doc Clark’s PBB story could easily fill this newspaper – and perhaps it will soon – that’s not what his story is all about.
His story is about a simple country hick, who found love in his late wife Marlene. It’s a story about his kids: Alpha III, Linda, and David, and their kids too. It’s a story about a guy who loves his animals, loves farming, loves his community, and loves his work.
This is a story about a guy who’s much more than just another face in the crowd.

Marion Press: Where were you born and raised?
Doc: When my parents got married, my dad worked for Buick in Flint. I think I was born there – that’s what my birth certificate says – but at the same time they bought a farm [near Sears]. Therefore, about 99 percent of my life was on that farm. I was 16 when I started my senior year, and 17 in January – graduated when I was 17. Went to Michigan State and got into vet school. When I graduated from vet school, it was 1958.

Alpha “Doc” Clark stands next to the plant that was given to him at Marlene’s funeral.  He waters it every day, keeping it alive and well for the past 14 years.

Alpha “Doc” Clark stands next to the plant that was given to him at Marlene’s funeral. He waters it every day, keeping it alive and well for the past 14 years.

MP: 60 years ago, that’s really something. Where did you go to school when you lived in Sears?
Doc: Back when they used to have those one-room schools, I went 7 years to the Covert School. And that building is now downtown in Barryton – they’ve got two [one-room schoolhouses] in that park in town. At my eighth year I went to Barryton Junior High, and then I graduated from Barryton High School.

MP: And then you went to MSU, and eventually to vet school. Was being a vet something that you always wanted to be?
Doc: I think so. Let me tell ya why: Anytime an animal got hurt, I’d have to patch it up. Just as a kid. I don’t know, I felt sorry for the animal, or something.

MP: What kind of farm did you grow up on?
Doc: Dairy cattle. We always had dairy cattle.

MP: What brought you to McBain?
Doc: I knew these Dutch farmers were up here, and I knew they were good farmers – that’s what brought me up here. Actually, I spent three years in Evart [after graduating vet school] and we rented a house there. And I set up a little clinic where we could treat dogs and operate on them.
There was a vet up here [in McBain] and he was a good vet. And somehow, he quit and went to Paw Paw – his name was Doc Stewart. When he left, I come right up here.
The neighbor up here was Neil Noordhoek, and he told me that he’d sell me three acres right here, see. So, I bought three acres and I put this hospital up and it was the best thing I ever did. And I didn’t know it at the time – I wasn’t THAT smart.

Doc Clark and Doctor Pol

Doc Clark and Doctor Pol

MP: I don’t believe that! So you built this place in ’61 and you’ve been here ever since? Almost 60 years of helping animals right here.
Doc: Ever since. Sooner or later, you’re gonna find out – that no matter how old you are – that it went so fast, that you can’t believe it yourself. I mean, I can’t believe I’m that old.
The only difference was that I’ve treated so many cows – pregnancy exam, and I’d just treat ‘em – that I hurt my back. I think it’s just a work deal, and I’ve had a lot of back trouble. So, I decided that I better get out of the cow business or I wouldn’t be able to walk!

MP: Cows are big animals!
Doc: I know it! And horses, I still do what they call the Coggins test. They bring ‘em here, and I bleed ‘em and then we send the results to the state. That’s for infectious equine anemia – the common name is swamp fever.

MP: Can you tell us a little bit about your family?
Doc: I’ve got three kids: two boys and Linda. My boys are Alpha III – my dad’s name was Alpha – and the youngest is David. David works for a milk company as a fuel man, and he lives over here in the house just down the road. I eat breakfast with him every morning.
You see, after I bought this, [Noordhoek] wanted to sell me the rest of the farm. It’s 120 acres.

MP: What is your favorite part of being a vet?
Doc: I just like the work. My parents taught me that work ethic, and if I’m not working, I’m not happy – and that’s stupid. I can’t help it! Some people are addicted to this or that, and the way my parents taught me, I’d imagine I’m addicted to work. I suspect I am.

he Clarks at Marion Fair

he Clarks at Marion Fair

MP: Well most people 84 years old have long ago retired.
Doc: Yep, well I don’t wanna retire. I live right here in this house over there. After we built this [hospital] we built this house [behind the hospital].
I lost my wife, Marlene, in 2004 – there’s the plant from her funeral. That plant’s 14 years old. I’ve got to tell ya, she was the finest human being you ever met. Believe me. She was very religious, but not to the point where she’d pound it on ya – if you wanted to talk about it, okay, and if you didn’t, now that’s okay too. Just the goodness of her.
She was the best thing that ever happened to me. We were married 48 years, and if she was still alive we’d still be married. She was a heck of a woman. She was a sweet gal – blonde hair, and light complexion.
Marlene Evelyn Peterson. Her family lived 6 miles south of the gravel pit near Hersey – it’s called Grant Center.

MP: How did you and Marlene meet?
Doc: It’s the [darndest] thing you ever heard of. I was going to Michigan State, and my cousin John was going to church in Lansing– our church was the Church of God – and they had youth meetings on Wednesday night. And Marlene had gone to Anderson, Indiana to a Church of God college, but her two sisters still lived in Lansing, and went to that church.
And I was a pretty good ping-pong player when I was young – ain’t worth nothing right now, because you’ve got to be able to move. And I like to play yet, but not like I was then – I could just about whip anybody. Anyway, [John] couldn’t beat this guy [at the church] and he talked me into going to this church deal. And when I got there he wanted me to play this guy – and he didn’t tell me that.
I don’t remember if I won or not; I probably did. That was in the spring. The following fall, I went back to school and I started going to the church and sitting right ahead of me was Marlene and her two sisters.
And she was the prettiest thing I ever seen. You know how that goes. That’s how I met Marlene, in the church.
She was one terrific gal. She probably did more for me than any one person’s ever done for anybody.
See, I was a country hick kid.

MP: A country hick kid, huh?
Doc: I’ll tell ya a story: One of the courses that we had to take at MSU was zoology. I knew that in order to get into vet school, you’d better do good in zoology. And so I was taking the class, and I got the flu. And I couldn’t take one of the tests. So I went to the [professor] and he said, well come on in and I’ll give you the test. And I scored the highest in the class. And right then, he said to me: I thought you was a country hick.
He did! Honest. And I was. He helped me get into vet school. I don’t know what it’s like now [to get in], but back then it was a pistol.

MP: Being here for as long as you have, what have been some of the keys to being successful?
Doc: Well I don’t take off every day; I don’t take off. I work five days a week. And someone come to the door the other day and wanted something. I think it was Sunday; they were having trouble and so I just come over here and took care of ‘em.
And when you’re 84, you’ve got to take a little time, get a little rest. But I just come over and took care of ‘em.
It all starts out with your parents – it’s got to start that way. My parents taught me to be honest, and to work. Well you put them two things together, and that’s what I think I am; I think I’m that. But nobody’s perfect, believe me.

Linda with her prized holstein

Linda with her prized holstein

MP: Outside of being a vet, what keeps you busy?
Doc: Well, I’ve got the registered Holstein herd. We’ve had that herd for a long time. Probably shortly after I graduated from vet school I started getting’ ‘em. You’ll look out here and see some cattle: them are bred heifers or dry cows.
Linda, her husband, and her son take care of the farm. Now, if you know where Big Lake [in Sears] is, our farm is right there on the north side. We own the farm right north of the lake.
We milk about 60 cows, and all together we have about 130 head. And they’re all registered, and we’ve been doing it since about 1960 – so that’s a lot of generations we’ve been doing it.
Our farm name is Clydal. His name is Clyde, and mine is Alpha; Clydal Farm.

MP: Who have been some of your mentors or role models?
Doc: My mother and dad. You’ve got to think about that. They taught me the main ingredients of survival: You’ve got to be honest, and you work hard. And that will just about get you anywhere, if you work hard and you’re honest. Alpha and Elsie. Elsie Ellen – she was a tough gal, now. You didn’t mess with my mother, she’d wallop ya! She taught me discipline and she taught me to be honest.

MP: What is the best advice that you’ve been given?
Doc: Well I think, still, being honest and working. In your own occupation, if you’re honest, and you work hard – it’s about the only way you’re gonna get ahead in this world.

MP: What kind of advice would you give to a kid, or someone who wants to be a vet?
Doc: I’d tell them that they better buckle down and get ready to work. You better learn to work, and you better be honest. You don’t fool people; sooner or later, you don’t fool people.
The one thing I have learnt, believe it or not, is to keep my mouth shut. You’re gonna learn a lot more listening than you will talking.
Marlene, she deserves a [heck] of a lot of credit. She took this country hick and made a man out of me – or maybe a boy out of me, I don’t know what – but she made a better human being out of me. She really did.

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