“You are just like him”
Donor echoes her alumnus great-grandfather’s actions decades later
By Sophia Werning
Gwinneth Berexa had never stepped foot in Nebraska before arriving in Lincoln on April 16, 2015. She was traveling from far away Corte Madera, California, bringing a generous, endowed scholarship to present to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln College of Arts and Sciences in honor of a man she had never met in person – her great-grandfather, John Davidson Clark, class of 1905.
“I’m so excited to do this, and have gotten so much more out of it than I gave,” Berexa explains. “Somehow, I now have an entirely new sense of who I am.”
She began researching her great-grandfather’s past two years ago after a chance reunion with one of her mother’s cousins – who she now refers to as her Uncle Bob – who knew John D. Clark. After graduating from UNL more than 100 years ago, Clark rose to prominence as a successful attorney, educator and oil tycoon who later served on President Harry S. Truman’s Cabinet on the country’s newly created Council of Economic Advisers.
“After visiting for some time, my uncle Bob said to me: ‘Everything about you – your passion, the way you work, the way you think – it’s all Clark. You are like him.’”
Those words struck Berexa powerfully. She had often felt throughout her life that she was very different from the rest of her family, sometime feeling as though she didn’t fit in. She chuckles when recalling how, growing up, she was so different in her passions and ideology from the rest of her family, it was as though she had been “delivered by Martians.”
This encounter sparked what would become a two-year quest to learn more about her great-grandfather: his roots, his history, his character, his story. She began in her Uncle Bob’s living room, poring over documents and memorabilia that started painting the portrait of a the Midwestern native who rose to national prominence, all the while embodying thecharacteristic most admired by her: Integrity.
“What stood out about my great-grandfather was that he was a servant leader in a challenging time – wartime,” She explains. “But it was also evident that his heart was always in teaching and leading students. He was tremendously passionate about education, and about giving back to the community.”
John Davidson Clark ‘05: A Story of Servant Leadership
- A native of Ft. Collins, CO, he is born September 26, 1884
- Attends the UNL College of Literature, Science and the Arts (now UNL College of Arts and Sciences) and graduates in 1905.
- Marries his college sweetheart, UNL alumna Joyce Brody, on January 24, 1908.
- Earns law degree from Columbia Law School in 1907. Begins practicing law in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and becomes Director of American National Bank of Cheyenne in 1919.
- In 1931, earns a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University with a dissertation on United States antitrust law.
- Works his way up to become vice president of Standard Oil and becomes known as the “Oil Tsar”.
- Serves as member of the Wyoming Legislature in 1941.
- Returns to Nebraska to serve as Dean of the College of Business Administration from 1941-1946.
- Called to serves as Member of the Council of Economic Advisers by President Harry S. Truman from 1946 to 1953, including the last three years as Vice Chairman. John D. Clark has papers at Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
- Passed away November 5, 1961 in Cheyenne, WY.
To Berexa, the numerous letters, documents and articles that archived the historical account of John D. Clark revealed a man who lived a life of courage and commitment, always pushing the envelope, stepping out of the box, exceeding challenges, and looking to the future. “Paying it forward was integral to his character,” she notes.
Berexa adds that despite John D. Clark’s tremendous success as an attorney, oil tycoon, politician, and presidential aid, the University of Nebraska remained very close to his heart throughout his life. “I believe that when he came back here to Nebraska, he was in heaven,” Gwinne says of her great-grandfather.
Berexa wanted to see for herself the city and state that was so beloved by Clark and his wife. “I wanted to walk where they walked,” she explains.
During her visit to campus, Viann Schroeder, a retired UNL employee who still gives historical tours, showed Gwinne which buildings were still standing from the time that her great-grandparents walked on the campus. Among the stops were the halls and second floor office of the College of Business Administration where Clark served as Dean from 1941-1946 before receiving the phone call from President Truman to serve our country during a tumultuous time in its history.
“It’s as though I felt their presence all around me and filled a part of me inside, a piece that had always been missing. It was an amazing feeling.”
Joye Fehringer at the Nebraska University Foundation worked closely with archivist Joshua Caster at the Love Library to produce and present to Berexa a bound booklet containing copies of documents, photos, manuscripts and letters pertaining to Clark’s time at UNL. Berexa was overwhelmed with joy as it was the first time her family had ever seen or possessed some of the documents contained in the booklet.
The culmination of Berexa’s discovery compelled her to commemorate her ancestor’s remarkable legacy by establishing the John D. Clark Courage and Commitment Fund in the amount of $35,000. She chose to carry out her great-grandfather’s spirit of “paying it forward” by establishing the scholarship for students majoring in economics or political science and/or minoring in Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (HRHA) – all areas reflective of her great-grandfather’s legacy. Funds from the endowment may be used for study abroad opportunities, scholarships, research, and travel. Faculty research and travel also will be supported, with preference for international research and travel tied to economics, political science, and/or HRHA. Berexa also gifted an additional $5,000 allowing for immediate assistance in these areas.
Berexa – who was born and raised in Colombia, South America, before moving to the U.S. to attend a private high school – recognizes and appreciates the impact of faculty bringing their international experiences back to the classroom. She believes that hearing their teachers’ stories encourages more students to study abroad.
“The world is becoming so global, and therefore so small, that we owe it to students to understand and value the changing framework that they live in,” Berexa explains. “I was lucky that I had that exposure and, whether it is directly or through a professor bringing the world to them in the classroom, and I want other students to experience what I was so lucky to have myself.”
More recently, Berexa established an additional scholarship fund, the “Joyce Broady Clark Women Blazing Trails Mathematics Outreach Fund” in honor of her great-grandmother, a 1907 College of Arts and Sciences alumna. As a successful woman in the financial industry, Berexa gifted the scholarship to benefit young women/girls and other underrepresented students in Mathematics.
What Berexa did not realize prior to presenting her gifts to the College is that it precisely mimicked what her great-grandfather had done decades earlier according to Fehringer. In 1928, John D. Clark donated seed money to endow the Brody Scholarship, a fund to benefit the “worthy and needy” in memory of his father-in-law Jefferson H. Broady, who was a Nebraska district court judge. In today’s dollars, the gift would equal the same value of Berexa’s endowed gift.
“I could hardly believe it,” she said tearfully upon learning this. “I was literally walking in my great-grandfather’s footsteps – without even knowing it.”
Berexa recently established an additional fund, the “Joyce Broady Clark Women Blazing Trails Mathematics Outreach Fund” in honor of her great-grandmother, a 1907 College of Arts and Sciences alumna.
As a successful business woman in the financial industry, Berexa gifted the fund to provide young women and other underrepresented students in mathematics the opportunity to gain confidence and experience through outreach programs like the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics and All Girls All Math.