By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Bob Clark was the top individual fundraiser at the American Heart Association’s Central Iowa Heart Walk on April 22. (Photo courtesy of Kassi Wessing)

Bob Clark was the top individual fundraiser at the American Heart Association’s Central Iowa Heart Walk on April 22. (Photo courtesy of Kassi Wessing)

Bob Clark usually works out at the gym, but on Saturday he got his steps in at the American Heart Association’s Central Iowa Heart Walk. The event — and the fundraising that goes along with it — are nothing new for the West Des Moines resident, who has spent nearly five decades as an AHA volunteer.

“I always tried to follow a pattern where I helped people if I could, whether they could help me or not,” said Clark, who began donating his spare time to the AHA in 1968, just because he was asked.

That has been the spirit of volunteerism since President Richard Nixon declared the first National Volunteer Week in 1974. Research has shown a strong relationship between volunteering and health, and those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, function better and experience lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer, according to a 2007 report from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In 1968, heart disease death rates, which rose steadily during the first half of the 20th century, had peaked, artificial heart valve replacements were new and the country was still decades away from developments like drug-eluting stents. All Clark knew was that he liked what he learned about the AHA, especially the organization’s commitment to research.

Today, he’s still going strong, having raised more than $5 million for the AHA in nearly 50 years.

“I discovered that if you want people to help you, you have to ask them, and it’s so easy to ask them if you feel strongly about an organization,” said Clark, who turns 91 in May. “The personal contact produced the best results, and in my opinion, the personal way produces the same results today.”

But when Clark was growing up during the Great Depression, he “didn’t know anyone who volunteered to do anything.” They were simply trying to survive. Like many, his family struggled to make ends meet.

A natural athlete, Clark played football and ran track. He attended Des Moines’ Drake University on a track scholarship.

In 1944, his freshman year, he played in three games before he was drafted. He returned after World War II and played four more years, earning a degree in economics and a law degree. He was the only student in the school’s history to earn five football letters.

Bob and Bob Clark with his wife, Mariann. (Photo courtesy of Bob Clark) Clark

Bob Clark with his wife, Mariann. (Photo courtesy of Bob Clark)

Clark was working in the legal department of a power company in 1953 when his boss encouraged him to join the Jaycees. He did and eventually became the civic organization’s national president.

The volunteering bug stayed with him.

In 1968, Clark had just started a bank job in Des Moines, when Curly Hultman, his friend and the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, called and asked him if he’d raise money for the AHA.

Clark agreed — a commitment that started out by raising funds in local church basements and has since taken him as far as Geneva, Barcelona and Seoul.

The more volunteer experience he gained, the more he was asked to do, taking on a variety of local and national roles for the AHA. It seemed he couldn’t spread himself too thin, and today he still stays busy volunteering with a handful of organizations.

Long ago he adopted the Jaycees’ creed, which he says is his too.

“Service to humanity is the best work of life,” Clark said. “I’ve always tried to follow that.”