670 Tamiami Trail North, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Waitresses from The Clock Restaurant came in on their day off to wish one of their favorite customers, Mr. Bill, a happy birthday.
A front booth in the restaurant, at 670 U.S. 41 in Naples, had a reserved sign for William Clark.
A cake wishing him a happy 100th birthday sat at one end of the lunch counter.
“He is such a joy. You can’t imagine he is that age,” said Christie Tarvin, a waitress who came in on her day off Wednesday for the surprise birthday party at noon. “Every day I ask him if he is staying out of trouble and he says ‘No, I look for it all the time.’”
Right on schedule, Clark and his wife, Ruth Clark, 88, arrive at the restaurant for their four-times-a-week lunch.
“Hey there birthday boy,” Gus Stettner, the restaurant’s general manager, greets the couple and points to the reserved booth. Lunch is on the house today, he says.
Clark uses a wheelchair but slides into a booth for his “senior touchdown” entree: one scrambled egg, one pancake, two slices of bacon well done, and coffee.
“I’ve eaten the same thing for the last couple of years,” Clark said, adding that the secret to making it to 100 is “just getting through 99 and you are there.”
He and his wife have spent their winters in Naples since 1970 and moved here permanently 14 years ago. He played golf regularly until he was 95.
“I don’t have a problem with nothing,” he jokes of his health, giving credit to his general practitioner who sends them to specialists when need be. “They have done a mighty fine job for my wife and I.”
Somewhere along the line, he learned the secret to longevity is 20 percent inherited and 80 percent lifestyle.
“I had my last drink in 1950 and I had my last cigarette,” he said.
At the time, Clark was a division vice president with Motorola in Dayton, Ohio, and his voice was strained from speaking at seminars and his two-day-a-pack habit. His doctor found nodules on his vocal chords.
“I was talking too much and smoking too much,” he said. “I said no more and took the cigarettes out and gave them to him.”
Part of his longevity is due to his wife, he says, and being happy. The couple had no children together but Ruth had a son from a previous marriage. At the birthday lunch, the Clarks were joined by their daughter-in-law, Cathy Harlow, and another couple, Joe and Peggy Sadelfeld.
Bill Clark planned to enjoy the rest of the day, like every day, then go to dinner with friends at Bonefish Grill.
“You might not go to heaven but when you’re in Naples, you are darn near there,” he said.
For the weekend and a busy schedule of birthday celebrations, 21 nieces and nephews are flying into town.
Clark grew up in Greenville, Ohio, and moved to Dayton as an adult. After World War II, he opened a real estate office and sold real estate before going to Motorola.
“We were brokers and specialized in upscale homes,” he said. “Ruth and I ran the company with a lot of other people for 17 years. I sold 120 houses in the first year right after World War II. There was such a pent-up demand for houses. You really didn’t sell them, you listed them.”
After lunch, patrons and restaurant staff joined in to sing “happy birthday” and a slice of cake was given to anyone in the restaurant who wanted one. The Clock is full of regulars and some waitresses have worked there 20 years.
Despite being told not to announce his birthday wish, Clark gives it away.
“I wish to live to 105 to come over to this restaurant,” Clark says.