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Well into Her 10th Decade, Fleeta Clark is Still Cooking

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August 11, 2011 by wcobserver

Staff Photographer Brooke McNeely Galligan - Fleeta Clark sits in her dining room surrounded by photos of her family at her home in Winslow. She is a well-known for her volunteerism and chicken-n-dumplings and was recognized by the state for her volunteer work.

By Annie McCormick

When you first enter Fleeta Clark’s home she will apologize for its condition. There are a few piles of things but in reality it is well-maintained and feels like a home.

This small house on Sunset Road has been home to Fleeta since August, 1952. She and her husband, Bud, were driving to Indiana when he told her he knew of a place she would like. She must have because Bud and Fleeta raised five children in this house which was remodeled and rooms added on. The children slept in one bedroom with a sheet strung across a wire dividing the boys from the girls. “It was rough,” she said, but with some help and the fact that Bud was an electrician, the house finally suited them. All of their children are graduates from Winslow High and some still reside here.

Fleeta Mae Moore was born in Pampa, Texas, in 1918. Her best friend had a brother, Charles “Bud” Clark, who Fleeta married a year after they met. Although she married at 16 she says she would “do it again.” When asked about her family line she holds up her hands and says, “Let’s count ’em up,” 10 grandchildren, 7 great-grandchildren and 5 great-great-grandchildren.

She recalled the dust that accumulated in the family home in Pampa. It was on a dirt road and sometimes would need dusting two or three times a day. Once she stood up to her mother proclaiming, “I’m not ever, ever, EVER going to dust again!” She now keeps a poem in her house that says “Dust if You Must.” A morning at the Clark home meant that Fleeta and her siblings picked bushels of beans and corn for her mother and the neighbor ladies to can, then get cleaned up and walk the mile to school. She watched her mother kill chickens by wringing their necks but when Fleeta attempted it the chicken just walked away. She never tried it again.

Sitting comfortably around her dining-room table, one can’t help but notice mementos of her rich life. Photos of her family, knick-knacks, cards and letters abound. Two old tabletop butter churns sit on her countertop. Fleeta says she’s a hoarder and keeps things in case she needs them someday, or in case someone else needs something. On one wall is a china cabinet filled with things that are priceless to her, including two left-handed pitchers and a crocheted cover for a hot-sauce bottle; complete with sombrero and serape. One of her sisters gave it to her about 75 years ago. On one wall is a framed poem written by Winslow resident Don Clark on the occasion of Fleeta and Bud‘s 50th anniversary.

There are plenty of memories here but Fleeta doesn’t live in the past. She is still active in the community and her church. She’s a little bit slower because of a health problem earlier this year but is regaining her strength. “I thought I was a goner,” she said. Winslow was happy to welcome her home when she came back from Fayetteville after the few months she spent with her daughter.

Fleeta worked 20 years for the City of Winslow as a billing clerk and receptionist. At that time, the bills were handwritten. After Bud passed, her son Roy asked (then mayor) Larry Jarnagan if there was something she could do at City Hall. She says Roy didn’t want her to just sit at her house doing nothing. Larry told him that they would put her to work, where she remained for two decades.

In 1987 Mrs. Clark was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since her recovery, she has been a regular at cancer walks and met fellow cancer survivor, actress Rue McClanahan, at one of the ​events. They got to talking and Rue said that she turned her disease over to God. Fleeta told her “I did too.” On one of the walks Fleeta was the last one across the finish line. “But I walked the whole way. The girls were wore out by going so slow” she giggles. She remembers that her dad said, “don’t ever lose your sense of humor.”

Granddaughter Pam and her husband treated Fleeta to a trip to Paris four years ago for her 90th birthday. She knew she would be slow so Pam got a wheelchair. “I want to see things.” Pam was worried that they‘d lose her. “The streets were cobblestone. I’ve never had such a sore hiney in my life. I didn’t complain because they did it because they loved me.”

The senior organization Experience Works awarded Fleeta the “Prime Time” award for Outstanding Older Workers in 2005 when she was 87. Along with the recognition she got a trip to Washington D.C. and had her picture taken with Blanche Lincoln. People have come to her house and asked, “Why do you have a picture of her on your
wall?” Fleeta said that she met all kinds of people in DC, including Ms. Lincoln, and that they treated her very well.

She has volunteered at many places but doesn’t do it for the glory. She has been a
mainstay at Winslow Community Meals, her church, and Ozark Folkways where she has become known for her famous chicken and dumplings.  “Vera Jean (Rhoads) used to always say that you can always count on Fleeta when something was going on because the first thing she says is “what can I do.”

Fleeta does get angry with herself because of the things she can’t do anymore. For decades she has been very active in the community with work, family and volunteerism. She says she’s “slowing down” so she’s training someone to carry on the tradition of “Fleeta‘s Famous Chicken and Dumplings” that she cooks yearly at Folkways. She explains how to measure a “pinch” and a “titch.

“I have lived a good life. A good clean one as far as that goes. That’s the only reason I’m still here, I‘m sure.”​

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