Devon Prep students give the gift of life

Photo provided Devon Prep seniors Jeff Young of Wayne (left), Hank Okonski of Phoenixville (center) and Walter Snook of West Chester each donated blood to the Red Cross during the school's annual Blood Drive.

UPPER PROVIDENCE - Neighbors along Amanda Lane celebrated the return of neighbor and Pennsylvania Army National Guard Capt. Chris Clark from a seven-and-a-half-month tour of duty in Kosovo.

Clark's neighborhood joined together to share many of the household duties in the soldier's absence.

"It made me very happy to know that the neighbors cared enough to take care of us," said Clark.

Clark's neighbors shoveled snow for his family, sealed the driveway, cut the grass and made sure that his car was inspected.

Neighbors gave Clark's family homemade coupons good for dinners, manicures, baby-sitting and other household chores.

"When you see somebody first hand who leaves behind a career, a wife and little kids at home you realize that the snow still needs to be shoveled and the lawn cut," said neighbor Mark Pilotti. "It takes a lot to run a household and for somebody to pick up their whole life like that for their country and make a major commitment with an uncertain future, it takes a real special person."

Once a week, neighbors' hosted the Clark family for dinner on a rotating basis, said neighbor Steve Hughes.

Michelle Hughes said that Clark's commitment made her feel "awesome."

"Chris could relax and not have to worry and could know that everybody was taking care of things," said Michelle Hughes.

"It was much harder for my wife and kids than it was for me," said Clark. The 15-year National Guard veteran spent most of his tour of duty at Camp Monteith in the Kosovo province of Serbia.

"The Albanian population wants to be independent, but obviously the Serbs don't want them to be independent," said Clark. "We were there to maintain a safe and secure environment so that the U.N. (United Nations) could help civil administrators establish a normal rule of law."

The 40-year-old Clark said that during the time when he was stationed in Kosovo there were no hostile acts against U.S. soldiers.

"I've been a reservist for 15 years and I'm glad I did it because I actually got to deploy and do my job instead of just training for it," said Clark. "It was a great experience getting to serve overseas. The hardest part was being away from home."

Maureen Clark, his wife and the mother of Brian, 5, and Megan, 2, said that the reactions of neighbors "just blew her away."

"I was lonely when he was gone but I didn't feel alone because I had so much support," said Maureen Clark.

Chris Clark is a supervisor of small business retirement plans for Vanguard.

"The neighbors tell me that I'm going to be very busy shoveling their snow and cutting their grass," said the Kosovo veteran with a grin.

Chris Clark is visiting Upper Providence on a four-day pass. He will next spend six days in Ft. Dix, N.J., and then have served his active commitment and be able to resume his residence on Amanda Lane.

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