BY ANNE STANTON
TRAVERSE CITY — Harry Clark, the boisterous and fun-loving luminary of the Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre, is dead, and in his wake left countless fans, as well as questions about the future of the Benzie County landmark he owned with his family.
"He was larger than life. He was a big part of the Cherry Bowl persona," said Ben McRae, who has known Clark's family for 20 years. "He was always willing to lend a helping hand, and was the first to step up to the plate to help anyone in need."
The blue screen of the Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre looms large outside of Honor. Harkening to a more innocent time, it shows only movies that are rated PG-13 and gentler.
In his trademark booming voice, Clark, who died Saturday at Munson Medical Center, would announce birthdays and welcome first-time patrons over the drive-in car speakers. He'd also thank veterans for their service.
The drive-in offered patrons such old-time amenities as a mini-golf course, hula hoop contests and lucky number drawings.
When the theater wrapped its summer season, Clark liked to treat local Republicans to a pig roast, said Adrian Poulisse, 26, now chairman of Benzie County's Republican Party.
Poulisse said Clark was a good family friend.
"I got to know him when I was in the military. When I came back, he would never accept my money. During a movie, he would walk out with free boxes of popcorn and candy for my four kids," he said.
Poulisse, in turn, helped out Clark at the drive-in from time to time. "He always had good advice, a really neat perspective."
Clark was injured last March after a historic storm downed branches, trees and electric lines with heavy snow. He was cutting down a storm-damaged tree with his son, Andrew, when the tree fell and struck his head. The injury paralyzed him.
"I went down to visit him several times in Grand Rapids," Poulisse said. "He could talk and everything else. But he couldn't get up and move, really expand his lungs, and he had complications from pneumonia."
After the accident, talking became a struggle for Clark.
"But he still had that same personality, telling jokes and making everyone laugh. It's still so hard to believe, to be honest," Poulisse said.
Clark's son and daughter were able to open and run the drive-in last summer, thanks to an outpouring of community support to help get the grounds ready.
Clark's big personality didn't go unnoticed at Sam's Club, where he was chosen Member of the Year in 2011. He gave his $50 award to a charity.
"He didn't work here, but he might as well have," said Bill Boughner, a Sam's Club Manager. "Harry was just one of those guys everyone loved. He didn't have an enemy in the building. He was an awesome guy. Loud, boisterous, very good sense of humor. He enjoyed life."
Clark and his wife, Laura, became entrepreneurs after dropping out of the Detroit corporate world and moving north to raise their family. In addition to the Cherry Bowl Drive-In, their entrepreneurial spirit extended to a tackle shop, bakery, and several restaurants.
Clark is survived by his wife, three children, Daniel, Andrew, and Arika, and two grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Benzie Central High School Auditorium. Pastor Chuck Towersey will officiate. A lunch will follow the service at the Fresh Wind Christian Community Ministry Center next to the Cherry Bowl Drive-In.