Faces of the International Marketplace: Meet Mary Clark

Mary Clark’s family has been in the Indianapolis area since the late 1800s when her paternal great-grandparents moved into what is now known as New Augusta in Pike Township. Her maternal grandfather is from the southside and was an active member of the Negro Baseball League.

Mary herself was born at St. Vincent Hospital in May of 1956. Throughout her life, she lived on the northside, the westside or somewhere in between.

“I was transient before it was fashionable,” she said with a laugh.

Mary’s high school experience made a large impact on her life. Her freshman class was the first integrated class at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, a historically all-black school. At the time, it was more acceptable to integrate black students into a majority-white school than the other way around.

“That was the best experience of my life, that freshman year,” she said.

To make the process go smoothly, Mary’s freshman class was relocated from the Crispus Attucks campus to Tudor Hall, which used to be a local girls school. Classes were in different buildings rather than one and the student to teacher ratio was somewhere along the lines of 12 to one. Consequently, Mary’s class had a college experience at a young age.

Being so isolated, however, classmates became close quickly, far surpassing expectations and even requesting sleepovers in the mansion, the main building at Tudor Hall.

“I mean, talk about bonding,” Mary said.

The integration was so successful that the school decided to move the students back to the main campus after just one year instead of the two originally planned. While the action indicated a positive effect, it was disappointing for the students who had had such a unique experience.

“As freshmen, we proved society wrong. [But] were we disappointed? Yes,” Mary said.

Still, it was understood that Mary’s education would advance past Crispus Attacks. Mary said it was an unwritten rule in her family that college was a must. Of her grandparents’ nine children, all but one had graduated from college; some even went on to get their doctorates. The expectation was the same of Mary’s generation, so she attended Indiana University and pursued a bachelor’s degree.

Before graduating, however, Mary decided to switch focus and start a family. She moved back to the westside of Indianapolis and has lived in the area ever since.

Her first job was with L.S. Ayres in 1978, where she started as Christmas help. After the holidays were over, she stayed on in the candy department. By the time Mary ended her 13 years there, she was a buyer. She then worked another 13 years for Value City, first as a department manager and then as a store manager on the westside. Mary worked there until she had her first grandchild and decided that retail hours were too demanding for the work-life balance she needed.

“I found that it wasn’t conducive to being a really good granny, so I left,” Mary said.

Mary has maintained a positive outlook throughout her career, saying, “Whatever position I’ve been given, I’ve embraced it and tried to make the best out of it.”

Yet Mary’s career was not yet over. She found a job that would serve her well in her future role with the International Marketplace Coalition. She interviewed for an assistant manager position with National City Bank and was hired as the branch manager. The under-achieving first location she managed was, after only three years under Mary’s supervision, the best in the state. She was promoted to the Georgetown Road branch and stayed with National City Bank for another 10 years, during which time she familiarized herself with the westside’s residents and businesses.

In 2005, Mary founded the Lafayette Square Area Coalition, now known as the International Marketplace Coalition, and was elected president. In December 2013, Mary became the second executive director of the International Marketplace Coalition. She is proud of her involvement and investment in this area and said emphatically, “I love what I do.”

Mary loves her family, her community and God. These are the guiding principles she uses in her work. A passionate advocate for this community and its growth, Mary takes her part in it seriously.

“I believe that whatever I do in life, I want to make sure that my mark is clear when I’m gone,” she said.

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