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Bruce Clark got his initial taste of politics in high school

December 9, 2017 GMT

Today’s cover subject in Think is Kankakee County Clerk Bruce Clark, one of the longest-serving officeholders in the county’s history.

Clark, who recently announced his upcoming retirement, has served 32 consecutive years in that governmental position.

His career as a politician might surprise some, but for those of us who’ve known him since he and his family moved to town from Kentucky in 1968, we could see the writing on the wall way back in junior high.

That’s when I first met Bruce, as a schoolmate and teammate on the West Junior basketball team. Being part of an athletic team bonds people through a shared experience. That’s especially true when you both are new to a school.

As buddies throughout high school, I watched Bruce put his “southern charm” on display. Our group of friends often chided Bruce, calling him “Governor” or “Senator.” It became obvious to us a career in politics was in his future.

Naturally, by the time our senior year at Westview High School came around, Bruce was elected student council president by a landslide.

It was early in fall 1971 when he accomplished his greatest feat as student council president and, for all I know, maybe the biggest of his entire political career.

Let me tell you about it.

WLS radio was quite popular in those days. It was at that time the station was advertising a contest sponsored by Carefree Sugarless Gum to Chicago-area high schools.

Company officials asked the students from Chicago city and suburban schools (that’s also the first-time I remember Kankakee ever being called a Chicago suburb) to send in as many of their product’s wrappers as they could, and the school which sent in the most wrappers would receive, as its prize, a concert by The Grass Roots, a very popular band at the time.

Bruce decided that little ol’ Westview was going to take part. He quickly organized the student council to get the word out and saved his biggest negotiation not for the students, but for the administration and faculty.

He found that collecting wrappers wasn’t the only way to win the contest. Students were allowed to write Carefree Sugarless Gum on a 3x5 card and submit that as well.

With his southern charm on full tilt, Bruce convinced the administration and some of the teachers to allow students to use the final five minutes of their class period to write out cards to submit to the contest.

I can remember a stack of blank cards being passed out at the end of a number of my classes and writing as quickly as we could until our hands would cramp from the repetition.

Well, the strategy worked, thanks to Bruce’s leadership. Westview, a long shot at best when the competition started, won the contest and the concert.

In the spring of ’72, the Westview gym was set for the big performance. The warm-up band was a little known group at the time called “The Raspberries,” who played what would later turn out to be a big hit song — “Go All the Way.”

The single, which wasn’t released until later that year, reached the Top 5 on three principal U.S. charts, sold more than 1.3 million copies and earned the band their only certified gold record.

Of course, The Grass Roots performed all their hits, including “Temptation Eyes,” “Let’s Live for Today” and “Midnight Confessions.”

It all made for a memorable day and could be chalked up as Bruce Clark’s first political victory.