Premier Princeton High School senior award was patterned after Ivy League honor

H.A. Clark learns of Dartmouth’s Barrett Cup and has an epiphany

H.A. Clark, 1912

Anyone who has ever graduated from Princeton High School or who has attended a commencement ceremony there has probably heard about the premier award that is presented annually to a graduating PHS student.

It’s called the H.A. Clark All-Around Achievement Award.

It was instituted by Hubert Atherton Clark, a successful Princeton insurance executive who lived from 1866 until 1926.

It recognizes multiple positive traits in a graduating senior boy and girl. It’s almost as if the winners are the class MVPs.

The Princeton High School graduation is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, May 18. The 2024 H.A. Clark All-Around Achievement Award winners will be announced at that time.

This award begs several questions: Who was H.A. Clark? Why did he create this award at Princeton High School? Where did he get the idea? How long has it been presented?

And, who are some of the people who have won it over the years?

H.A. Clark, the boy

Hubert Atherton Clark was born in Princeton on Nov. 9, 1866. His parents were Maj. Atherton Clark and Jerusha Whitmarsh Clark. Hubert, later known as Bert, was their first-born child. They had three more children who lived to maturity: Lora, Herma and Alice.

Bert’s father served two years as sheriff of Bureau County from 1868 until 1870 and then became a farmer in Arispie Township. Bert attended country schools until the family moved back to Princeton in early 1881. Later that year, he passed entrance exams for Princeton Township High School. He ranked either first or second in his class for the fall terms of 1881, 1882 and 1883.

Bert’s high school career was cut short after he’d just turned 17 years old. As Bert later wrote: “I only attended high school for about two and one half years, as I was obliged to leave to help support our family. I went to work for Delano & Son, grocers, and drove the delivery wagon and worked in the store for about four years.”

Bert worked his tail off at the grocery store. He got up at 5 a.m. each day, seven days a week, to feed and care for the mules that pulled the delivery wagon. He worked long days making deliveries and sometimes into the evenings.

H.A. Clark, the man

Bert yearned for better employment, and after his family’s debt had been repaid, he found it as an employee of Farmer’s National Bank, where he spent the next two years. Then, at age 23, he spent a year in Chicago working in an insurance office.

Back in Princeton for the start of the 1890s, Bert embarked on his career as First National Bank’s bookkeeper with vigor. He spent the next 12 years of his life there. He also found time to be active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, where he sang and led the choir.

He found time to woo and wed a wife. He married Fannie Clark (no relation) on March 1, 1893, and they had four children: Eunice, Roger, Anne and George. And he found time to branch out into business partnerships with a laundry and a jewelry store.

After the turn of the century, Bert was ready for a change. By opening an insurance agency, he found his true niche.

As reported in the Bureau County Republican, “… [W]ith his intense energy, industry and zeal, and devotion to the job, he forged rapidly forward until several of the largest insurance companies in the United States sought him eagerly and made flattering offers for his service.”

He became associated with the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee as district agent for Bureau and Henry counties. By 1911, Bert was promoted to general agent for a territory of nine counties in northern Illinois.

The dropout supports education

As Bert Clark’s profile grew in the Princeton community, he found opportunities to further serve the city he loved through organizations and a bank directorship.

Another of those opportunities came when he was elected to the board of education for Princeton Township High School in 1906, where he served for five years.

So when did the actual H.A. Clark All-Around Achievement Award get its start?

You have to go back to the day in 1915 when Bert’s son, Roger, got accepted at Dartmouth College. Roger attended the Ivy League institution in Hanover, New Hampshire, for the next four years.

Roger’s roommate was Percy A. “Pete” Grey. Grey was an accomplished student – so much so that when it came time for Dartmouth to award its annual Barrett Cup to a member of the Class of 1919, Grey was named the winner.

The Barrett Cup went to the senior who showed “the greatest promise of becoming a factor in the outside world through his strength of character and qualities of leadership, record of scholarship and broad achievement, and his influence among his fellows,” according to Dartmouth College.

When Bert Clark heard the news about Roger’s roommate’s triumph, a bell must have rung in his head. “What a fine award!” he might have thought. Now, he knew what he had to do.

First awards handed out

That same spring of 1919, the All-Around Achievement Award, sponsored by H.A. Clark, became a reality at Princeton High School.

Bert volunteered to fund the new award, which was a cash prize of $5 (almost $90 in 2024). The school, led by Principal W.R. Spurrier, readily accepted the offer.

Bert also stipulated that PHS teachers vote on which seniors, a boy and a girl, should win the award based on the following qualities: character, dependability, scholarship, physical development, athletic skill, popularity, leadership, initiative and practical usefulness to the school and to the community.

Harold Walker and Dorothy Piper, 1919 graduates, were the first winners. In 1920, the H.A. Clark award’s second year, Anton Ackerson and Marian Case were its recipients. In 1921, Rubert Lewis and Marcia Pierson received achievement honors.

That same year, 1921, Bert Clark, who would turn 55 in November, was stricken with appendicitis. Four years later, Bert suffered a serious eye injury when he accidentally stepped into a head-high wire while inspecting the construction of the new high school building.

The next summer, Bert entered a Chicago hospital after his health declined further because of high blood pressure and kidney ailments. While there, he suffered a heart attack, appeared to rally, but died unexpectedly on July 17, 1926. He was 59.

Clark’s will keeps award going

Bert, knowing his health was failing, made meticulous provisions in his will for his family, friends and the community. One of those provisions concerned the H.A. Clark All-Around Achievement Award.

Bert bequeathed the sum of $400 to the PHS Board of Education (almost $7,000 in 2024) to create an endowment, the proceeds of which would fund $10 prizes each year to the senior boy and girl who were deemed worthy of the award.

Thus, the H.A. Clark All-Around Achievement Award would live on, even as its benefactor lay in his grave at Oakland Cemetery in Princeton. Hubert Atherton Clark, despite the fact he did not finish high school, has made a tremendous mark on PHS.

Some of the H.A. Clark Award winners

From 1932, the winners were Aldean Duffield and Mary Winifred Skinner. As Mary Win Walter, she was a well-known local artist and art teacher. And Ted A. Duffield became editor of the Bureau County Republican for nearly three decades.

From 1941, Sally Skinner and Bradley Piper were the awardees. The remodeled PHS Auditorium is named after Sally Skinner Council.

From 1947, George Eggers and Eleanor Poppens won the award. Eggers served as Princeton’s police chief later on. And Eleanor Poppens, now 98 years old, is Bureau County History Center Executive Director Lex Poppens’ aunt.

From 1966, Larry Fundell and Jeanne Marsh were the winners. Larry went on to become a doctor. Coincidentally, his nephew, Scott Matthews, won the award in 1992.

From 1990, Kipp Wahlgren and Jenny Faber were the winners. Wahlgren became Col. Kipp Wahlgren, United States Marine Corps.

From 2005, Evan Hultine and Jordan Baker won the award. This past December, Hultine was elected vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Today, H.A. Clark All-Around Achievement Award winners receive $25 and a certificate, according to PHS Principal Andy Berlinski.

A legacy of significance

Hubert Atherton Clark, known as “one of Princeton’s foremost business men and citizens,” according to his 1926 obituary, certainly left a legacy of significance. By honoring all-around achievement at Princeton High School, he actively encouraged students to be the best they can be.

Out at Oakland Cemetery, Bert’s gravestone bears these words: “The world is better for his having lived.”

For the past 98 years, no one has disputed that claim. And it’s doubtful anyone ever will.

Jim Dunn, a retired journalist, is president of the Bureau County History Center Board of Directors. Sources for this story include the Bureau County Republican, Bureau County Tribune and Bureau County Record archives, PHS records, Bureau County History Center archives, Dartmouth College online sources, and Roger Clark’s book, “One Man’s Family: A History of the Clarks from 1866 to 1956.”

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