Benjamin Calrk and his wife, Sarah, in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral at Red Square in Moscow

NAME: Benjamin Clark

TITLE: Chief of Cultural Resources for DNR’s Division of State Parks and Reservoirs
SINCE? I’ve been in my current role since the fall of 2011, but I’ve been doing history and historic preservation for State Parks and Reservoirs since the summer of 2008.

ORIGINALLY FROM? I grew up in the Central Ohio area and moved to northwest Indiana the summer before I started high school. I’ve been in Indiana longer than I lived in Ohio, but I’m still a Buckeye at heart.

YOUR JOB DUTIES INCLUDE? Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs has quite a few historic buildings at our properties all over the state. There are state laws that govern what can and cannot be done with historic sites and structures and I help shepherd various projects through that process. There are some similar federal laws that sometimes apply to us as well. I’ve been working on nominating some of our buildings to the National Register of Historic Places and writing some cultural resources management plans. These two projects especially provide the opportunity to engage in historical research, which is a lot of fun. I oversee our division’s archival collections, which includes a large number of historic images; I do some public outreach events, mostly highlighting the contributions of the Civilian Conservation Corps in building our properties’ buildings and infrastructure; I work with our wonderful team of interpretive naturalists to tell our properties’ histories; and we’re working on plans to celebrate the centennial of the founding of state parks, which is coming up in 2016.

YOU WORK HOW MANY HOURS WEEKLY? I get paid to work 37.5 hours, but I often travel all over the state, so there are a good many 12 hour days and some six day work weeks.

PROJECT/S YOU ARE MOST PROUD TO HAVE BEEN PART OF? I was thrilled to be able to publish an article in the fall 2010 issue of Traces based on my thesis about African Americans living in Indianapolis and their experiences vis-à-vis questions of race and citizenship during FDR’s first term as president.

OTHER PROJECTS WE MIGHT RECOGNIZE? If you ever visit any of our State Parks and Reservoirs (and I hope you do) you will see our many historic buildings. I’m happy to do my part to make sure that they’re still standing now and for the future.

WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO ? I’m always happy to be part of preserving a great historic building. Having a tangible record of the past in the form of a building is really invaluable. And furthermore, one of the most environmentally friendly things one can do is to preserve a structure instead of building a new one. I love that I get the opportunity to research and write, which is really what I was trained to do in graduate school. Not everyone can actually apply what they learned in college and graduate school to their job, so I feel pretty fortunate in that respect. And I get to visit parks for a living. It’s hard to complain about work when you have to get up in the morning and drive to Turkey Run.

WORST PART OF WHAT YOU DO? I sometimes find it frustrating that we don’t have a perfect historical record. I find myself thinking “why couldn’t the people living in the past have anticipated my research needs?!” That’s pretty selfish, I guess. But on the other hand, this imperfect knowledge of past events is what makes the research process so challenging and interesting.

HOW YOU DEFINE PERSONAL SUCCESS? Success comes when you set goals that require you to stretch yourself and compel you to work hard to meet them. I believe it’s important to always have an eye toward leaving this place better than I found it. And it’s pretty satisfying to be able to remind someone of the value of understanding the past in order to make sense of the present, which is really what historians do (or ought to be doing).

ADVICE TO SOMEONE ELSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO DO WHAT YOU DO? Go to graduate school, study hard, and then move on. Don’t linger there. Read, read, and read some more. And never stop being curious.

IF YOU WERE GRANTED ONE WISH RELATING TO YOUR JOB/CAREER/ORGANIZATION, WHAT WOULD IT BE? I think anyone who works in historic preservation wishes there was an inexhaustible amount of cash to make all of the necessary repairs to historic structures. But unfortunately the bottom line still exists and budgets must be met.

WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT TO WHERE YOU ARE WITHOUT? The support of my wife is invaluable. She’s an amazing person and she’s so smart it’s scary.

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU? Anxiety. Sometimes I even use it for good. My son, James, is pretty inspiring. He sees the world with a fresh pair of eyes and reminds me to do the same.

WHO WERE/ARE YOUR MENTORS AND HOW DID THEY HELP? I spent my first couple of years as an undergraduate at Huntington College (now Huntington University) before transferring to Indiana University. I really loved being in classes with professors Paul Michelson and Jeffrey Webb. In graduate school in the public history program at IUPUI, I appreciated the guidance of professors Bob Barrows, Nancy Robertson, and Melissa Bingmann. I also had the good fortune to hold several internships in grad school, where I was advised by Jeannie Regan-Dinius and Suzanne Stanis, among others.

WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN HISTORY? My grandfather was a voracious reader, even though he wasn’t highly educated. He loved talking about history and telling stories (and tall tales) and I enjoyed listening to them. My parents made sure that I was exposed to educational opportunities outside of school; we took a number of family vacations to historic sites when I was a kid. Trips to Gettysburg and Williamsburg particularly stand out in my mind.

MOST INTERESTING BIT OF INDIANAPOLIS HISTORY YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED? I love learning about African American history and cultural landscape along Indiana Avenue and Ransom Place.

YOU CAN HAVE DINNER WITH ANYONE FROM INDIANAPOLIS PAST? WHO & WHY? Richard Lieber, the father of Indiana State Parks. He was an intelligent guy with a diverse set of skills and interests. He was a leader in the parks movement and we owe him a debt of gratitude .

YOUR CAREER IN AN ALTERNATE LIFE? I would like to have been a professional athlete; maybe a marathon runner.

ANY INTERESTING FAMILY CONNECTIONS TO INDIANAPOLIS PAST? I married into an Indianapolis family who’ve been here for a number of generations. My wife’s family has burial plots adjacent to the grave of Madge Oberhotlzer, the victim of D.C. Stephenson’s violence. It’s a horrifyingly sad and tragic story.

FAVORITE VIEW IN THE CITY? I love the view from the corner of New York Street and White River Parkway. This is on one of several regular running routes that I take. From that vantage point you can see IUPUI’s campus, the downtown skyline, the State House, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Indianapolis Zoo. It’s a reminder of everything that makes this city great.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN INDIANAPOLIS? So many to choose from. Fountain Square has a lot of great restaurants: Red Lion Grog House, Pure Eatery, Naisa Pan-Asian Cafe, and Siam Square. I also enjoy Jockomo in Irvington.

FAVORITE CITY BESIDES INDIANAPOLIS? Moscow, Russia is a beautiful, fascinating, and stressful city with lots of history. It’s great fun.

FAVORITE HISTORY RELATED BOOK OR MOVIE? Two books that have had a particularly great impact on me are Historians’ Fallacies by David Hackett Fischer and Sense of History by David Glassberg.

ULTIMATE BEVERAGE? I love making coffee in my French press.

COLLECT ANYTHING? I’ve never been much of a collector. But I guess now that I’m a father I collect gray hairs. They’re priceless.

“At about nine, I had the very pleasant notion that I was the fastest boy runner in the world.” Buddy Glass in Seymour: An Introduction by JD Salinger
“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

IF YOUR LIFE HAD A THEME SONG, IT’D BE? More like a theme album. There are two that I’ve listened to way too many times: It’s Hard to Find a Friend by Pedro the Lion and Abbey Road by The Beatles.

Who do you know and admire who works in history or preservation? Nominate them to be featured here! Please email feedback (at) historicindianapolis (dot) com; we’ll even include you as the nominator if they consent to participate!

One response to “Heritage Steward: Benjamin Clark”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    ANOTHER excellent article on heroic Hoosiers saving our past for the future! (Love the backdrop of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in the background, too!)

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