Wednesday, December 19, 2012

12.19.12 Hero of the Day: Harry Clark

Bee-otch of the Day honors are awarded Monday through Thursday, Bee-otch of the Week is awarded Friday on


Name: Harry Clark
Age: was 64
Occupation: owner, Cherry Bowl Drive-in, Honor, MI
Last Seen: in the big drive-in in the sky
Awarded For: keeping the spirit of the 1950's alive
The town of Honor should be honored.

This small town of just over 300 in Benzie County, MI seems to be the town time forgot, especially when it comes to its downtown. Loaded with abandoned businesses and storefronts, many feel that Honor has seen better days.

Of course, part of the problem is the fact that starting some 50 years ago, many downtown businesses moved to a new plaza just a small drive from the once-prosperous business district. Today, the Honor Shopping Plaza now has the town's hardware/lumber, supermarket, a restaurant or two and even a Family Dollar.

One of the ironically-named businesses in Honor was "Hard Times Pizza", which reflects Honor's now-depressed downtown. For decades, it was Weaver's Market, a tiny IGA supermarket whose signs stayed up for years after it closed.

But, Honor has a business many towns - big and small - wished it still had: a drive-in movie theatre. Since 1953, the Cherry Bowl has attracted thousands of visitors throughout the Summer, showing many blockbusters and bringing carloads of families together. It was owned by the same family for decades when in 1997, Harry and Laura Clark escaped the corporate world to buy the popular landmark.
Since buying the Cherry Bowl, Harry and his family have worked steadfastly to keep the venue clean and spotless. Not only does the Cherry Bowl show movies, but it also has everything from a playground to a beach volleyball court to even a putt-putt golf course. Plus, to keep with the family-friendly theme, the Cherry Bowl never shows anything above a PG-13.

Like many small-town theatre owners, Harry was there every night, making announcements over the loudspeakers and even hosting contests. Many who knew him called him a super nice guy and somebody who would go out of his way to help others.

But earlier this year, Clark had a big setback thanks to something that northern Michigan has long been known for, and something that keeps the Cherry Bowl closed for the season: long snowstorms.
One hit northern Michigan late Winter, and Harry and his son Andrew (whose A. Papano's Pizza is ironically in another former IGA, this time in Beulah) were cutting up fallen trees in Harry's yard in Benzonia when a tree fell on him. The paramedics were called, and Andrew drove his father down the driveway in their tractor while EMS was waiting. He was airlifted to Munson Medical Center where he was discovered to be paralyzed.

Harry spent the rest of his life fighting to save it, and there were even rumors that the drive-in would have to close for the year. Thankfully, a man whose movies never played at the Cherry Bowl decided to help him out.

One night earlier this year, Michael Moore passed a collection plate at his State Theatre in Traverse City before a movie, and $3,000 was raised to help with the Clark's bills. Last Summer, sadly, Harry's voice wasn't heard at all, but many felt that his spirit was as his family worked even harder to keep the drive-in running smoothly.

A week ago Saturday, Harry Clark lost his battle with pneumonia. He was 64. A few days later, his children released a post on the theatre's Facebook site saying that "Daddy went to be with Jesus".
As of this time, there's no known plans if the Cherry Bowl will reopen for the Summer of 2013, although on their website, it did say that they will.

True, some might bash the Cherry Bowl for avoiding R-rated movies, but Harry Clark knew his audience. Even during tough times, people want to see good movies, and many of them are families. My father and I went there in 1994 to see Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Coneheads and had lots of fun. It was the only time I went to a drive-in and I know I should go to them more, but because this is Michigan, it's not totally that possible. Plus, here in Grand Rapids, the nearest drive-in is in Muskegon (the Getty), and it's closed for the season, too.

The Clarks have a wonderful asset with their theatre, and I hope it'll stay open for many years to come. I know that there's fewer than something like 100 drive-ins left in America, and the number keeps dwindling thanks to property values, so who knows what will happen. I never met Harry Clark, but he was from many accounts a great man who will be missed. He might be one of the best theatre owners in Michigan history.

So long, Harry. While in Heaven, don't fog up the windows.


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