Ray Clarke's memory stands tall, an apt replacement for the landmark coal breaker that he fought to save. His name will forever be linked to the historic Huber Breaker. Ray Clarke lost the campaign to preserve the breaker, but he won the hearts of many in his hometown, Ashley, and in the Wyoming Valley and beyond.
Raymond T. Clarke, Sr., 87, died Tuesday, May 18 of severe head injuries sustained in a fall on May 1. He died at home with his beloved wife Jane Ellen and his children at his side.
Ray was met at the gate of heaven by tens of thousands of miners. Mine union leader John Mitchell, “johnny d’Mitch,’’ spoke for the miners: “Well done, lad! Well done!’’ The angels and saints then led Ray to the eternal home prepared for him, a home where there is pain no more.
On May 1, Clarke and his wife, Jane Ellen, attended a funeral Mass at St. Leo’s/Holy Rosary Church, where the Clarkes were adult altar servers at morning Masses and funerals until Covid-19 restrictions set in. Ray fell as the couple exited the church and he sustained severe head trauma. He was in a coma, rallied briefly and then lapsed into a coma again at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. He was taken home where he died.
Ray Clarke was born Feb. 28, 1934 in Ashley, one of eight children of Patrick and Ellen Nealon Clarke. His father worked at Sugar Notch’s No. 9 colliery until breaking a leg in an accident; thereafter he served as custodian at Ashley High School from which Ray graduated in 1952. Ray helped his brother Joe deliver afternoon newspapers in the breaker neighborhood. Because Joe had a bicycle, he did South Main Street, leaving Ray to climb steps in miners’ boarding houses. Ray also delivered to stores and barrooms. Following a two-year stint in the Army, as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, Ray married Jane Ellen Bingham in 1956. The Clarkes lived on Cook Street, only a few hundred yards east of the Huber Breaker that processed anthracite from its opening in 1939 through August, 1975. Ray worked as an iron worker through Local 489. A vacation trip by Ray and Jane to Ireland in 1979 led to the decision to open a gift shop, and flowers were added to the inventory and became the shop’s centerpiece item. Ray once commented that he had “walked the beams’’ as an iron worker and “heights did not bother me,’’ but he enjoyed the years at Clarke’s Imported Gifts & Floral where his Irish heritage was on display. He also serviced graves at Oak Lawn Cemetery and St. Mary’s Cemetery. The couple owned and operated the shop on North Main Street, Ashley, from 1979 until turning over the business to Mary and Paul Holmgren, their daughter and son-in-law, in 2001. The business later closed. While in that business, Ray Clarke became involved with the Huber Breaker Preservation Society, created in 1990 with a goal of saving and preserving the breaker. He worked tirelessly with businessmen and volunteers to first create the Anthracite Miners’ Memorial Park and then to raise funds for a memorial to all miners of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The memorial was dedicated May 27, 2013. On Sept. 9, 2017, a state Historical and Museum Commission marker was installed and dedicated on South Main Street. The most heartbreaking loss was the breaker itself.
Clarke became chairman of the society board and treasurer in 2006. He stepped down in February, 2019, after 13-plus years. At the miners’ memorial dedication, Clarke was in tears as the tarpaulin fell away, exposing the black granite monument. A new American flag fluttered at half-mast as the deteriorating Huber Breaker sat in the background. A marker citing Ray’s dedication was installed at the park. Ray, in turn, often lauded the many men and women who gave of their time to save the breaker and develop the park. Ray loved his family, his community and his church. He lived his Roman Catholic faith, devoting hours as an adult altar server at morning Mass and at funerals. He and Jane Ellen served hundreds of funerals. He was a charter member of St. Leo the Great Council 12089, Knights of Columbus, and attained the Fourth Degree as a member of the Bishop Hafey Assembly. He was his council’s chancellor at the time of his death. Ray was a member of the Holy Name Society, the parish Projects Committee and the summer Festival Committee. He was a familiar figure in his dark green apron as he bustled about at fund raisers. The apron bore one word, “Bingham,’’ Ray’s tribute to his Jane Ellen. It was a gift from the owner of a restaurant of the same name in Susquehanna County. Ray was a member of the Ashley Lions Club where he held many offices. In the1960s, he was cub master of Pack 101 at Centenary United Methodist Church, Ashley. An avid Notre Dame football fan, he would watch the game on television and listen on a radio at the same time. He attended his sons’ and grandsons’ wrestling matches and track meets. The Clarkes celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary in October, 2020.
Ray and Jane Ellen Clarke had eight children and they suffered the heartache of the loss of four: Raymond, Jr., Kevin, Ellen and Patrick. He also was predeceased by siblings Margaret Bromfield, Frank Clark, Eleanor Williams and Catherine Harkins; brothers-in-law Ed Bromfield, Dave Williams, Ed Harkins, William Bly and Herman Bingham; sister-in-law, Kathryn Clarke and grandson George.
In addition to his wife, Ray is survived by children Kara Rowley and husband Joseph, Ashley; Thomas Clarke and wife, Jennifer, Hunlock Creek; Mary Holmgren and husband Paul, Hanover Township, and Colleen Kinney and husband, Keith, Easton; grandchildren Erin, Patrick, Amanda, Samantha, Matthew, Joseph, Stephen, Paul, Brandon, Kyle, Emily, Jillian, Gavin, Chase, Tom and Katie; great-grandchildren, Nate, Alanna and Ella; adopted daughter, Shannon; brothers, Joseph Clark and his wife, Irene, Ashley; James Clarke, Ashley, and sister, Mary Bly, Ashley.
A viewing will be held Sunday, May 23, 2021 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Lehman Family Funeral Service., Inc., 689 Hazle St., Wilkes-Barre, and on Monday morning from 9:30 to 10:00 am. Funeral service will begin at the funeral home on Monday, May 24, 2021 at 10:00 am and the Mass of Christian Burial will follow at 10:30 a.m. in St. Leo’s/Holy Rosary Church, 33 Manhattan St., Ashley. Rev. Brian J.T. Clarke, Ray’s nephew, will be celebrant. Rev. Vincent Dang, pastor, and other priests of the Diocese of Scranton will con-celebrate.
Interment, with Military Honors, will be in Oak Lawn Cemetery, Hanover Township.
Memorial contributions may be made to St. Leo’s/Holy Rosary Church, 33 Manhattan St., Ashley, PA 18706.
The family extends heartfelt thanks to ICU nurse Ali Smith, chaplain Anne Kasper and Dr. Jerry Maloney of Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center; nurses Ann Pepson and Darlene Casey of Hospice of the Sacred Heart; and wonderful neighbors Cliff and Lucy, Marty and Gerri, John, Bob, Rick and Rachel.