Russ Clark carries on tradition of giving back to the community
The minimum wage job at Carl's Jr. was only going to be a part-time thing for the then 20-year-old Russ Clark while he attended Long Beach State.
It was still only temporary after his return from serving in the U.S. Air Force for 31/2 years.
But within three weeks he was promoted to restaurant manager, then about two years later to district manager and, in 1976, as one of four regional managers.
Now Clark, 59, is the owner of three Carl's Jr. restaurants - in Yuba City, the chain's highest sales volume location in its almost 1,000 locations across the United States, as well as in Marysville and Auburn.
"There were only 19 (Carl's Jr. restaurants) when I started," Clark said. "I grew up with the chain."
Carl Karcher, the restaurants' founder and a longtime friend, "was almost like a father to me," Clark added. "He always said 'give back to your community.'"
Clark's practice of following that philosophy led to his being nominated for an Appeal-Democrat Spirit of Freedom award in The American Dream category.
"Russ is a quiet giver with a big smile and heart," said Jim Barber in a letter nominating his boss and longtime friend. The two have known each other for 30 years.
"He strongly believes as an owner and a businessman that your word is your bond and to always give back to the community when you can."
Clark's involvement with the community began with a donation to a nonprofit organization on the second day he bought the Yuba City and Marysville restaurants in 1987.
"It just continued," he said. "We're part of the community."
He is so involved in the community that not everything he's done can be mentioned.
His business has given away thousands of gallons of lemonade and thousands of paper cups to nonprofit groups since that first year - "It saves them (money). ...We're part of it and capable of doing it. Why not help when we can?"
He's worked with the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce and its Education Committee, giving books and backpacks to public school elementary students for the past three or four years. "I tell them how important it is to learn to read," he said.
The reading project has gone so well that other franchisees are doing the same thing in their own communities.
During the area's evacuation during the 1997 flood, Clark and his employees kept the stores open as long as they could for emergency crews.
More recently, Clark found a way to purchase a new vehicle for the Marysville Police Department after he saw a story saying the police chief was trying to get advertisements for the department's cars.
He didn't like the image.
"All I could picture in my mind was NASCAR," Clark said. "We don't need something like that. I'd hate to see the police cars become billboards."
Clark set out to challenge other businesses to match his donations for two cars, but finally only one was purchased. Other people also donated for its purchase, he emphasized.
Currently, he and others in the community are working on converting the Sutter Theater on Plumas Street in Yuba City into a performing arts center. They plan to have things ready to start the building's remodeling process once the current owner moves to a new location.
Clark is also proud of being able to help people by giving them a job, giving them a chance to move on. "It teaches them hard work and (that) trying to do your best does pay off."
Talking about owning the restaurants and being able to do the things he does for the community, he said, "I never dreamed I'd live this way."
He grew up in Gary, Ind., and has been a Yuba-Sutter resident since 1987. He and his wife, Donna, have two children - April, a sophomore at Yuba City High School, and Kevin, a sophomore at the University of California, San Diego.
"My intention was not to be a restaurant owner, but to pay while going to college," he said. Though he's about 15 units shy of a degree in business, he's happy with his life. However things happened to give him opportunities, he said, "I was there and I had a chance to show what I could do.
"I feel that I've almost carried on Carl's American Dream. He's someone who made my life easier," Clark said. "I worked hard. I think that's what the American Dream is."
Appeal-Democrat reporter Leticia Gutierrez can be reached at 749-4722. You may e-mail her at email@example.com.
Nominated by: Jim Barber
"Russ is a quiet giver with a big smile and heart." in his letter nominating Russ Clark for a Spirit of Freedom award in the American Dream category