Having lived a life of dedicated to service and leadership development, COL William Clark, U.S. Army retired, is well-positioned to take on the role of St. John’s president. When asked what it means to have the opportunity to serve as the next president of St. John’s Military School, Clark is focused, pointed, and characteristically humble in his response as he redirects the focus of the conversation on the mission of the school.
“It’s not about what it means to me,” he explained. “First and foremost, it’s about St. John’s Military School. St. John’s at its essence, is a leadership academy. The school about equipping young men, no matter their chosen path, with the skills they need to be a leader at a local, national, and international level. Secondly, the school is about character development, and about helping young men understand that integrity means doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, even when no one is looking. Third, St. John’s is about helping young men develop resiliency in their lives, and learn the ability to overcome adversity and come out stronger. Finally, our school is about being a faith-based institution. So really, it’s not about me. It’s about our young men and about what they can become, and how we can help them get there.”
Clark served in the United States Army for a period of 30 years. During his tenure, he commanded at every level from platoon through brigade and served a total of 13 years overseas, including operational deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Bosnia. As a cavalry squadron commander, he deployed the first Stryker Brigade Cavalry Squadron into Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
As he plans to use the lessons he learned during his three decades spent in the Army in his new role as president of one of the nation’s most accomplished military schools, Clark speaks with a conviction and an enthusiasm that clearly comes from a place of selfless leadership.
“Being in the military is about service. You are giving of yourself to protect and defend the ideals of our country so that people in our country can live in a free environment- it is truly about service to others. We’re trying to instill the same concept of commitment, personal discipline, and teamwork into the cadets at St. John’s. Our goal is to teach them about determination, about servant leadership, about leading with integrity, and about unity.”
According to St. John’s Vice President Maj. George Stelljes, Clark’s planned approach to leadership will help the school’s faculty and staff to continue to provide its cadets with an academic and individualized education that stresses personal accountability and teamwork.
“He stresses character building, leadership, and academics,” said Stelljes. “COL Clark is the most organized leader I’ve ever worked with. He has a sense of drive and energy that is going to move the school forward. As an organization, we’re only as strong as our weakest link. As every one of us improves individually, the whole school will improve, especially our cadets.”
Despite being new to his position, the passion he feels for the school’s success and for the development of each and every cadet, is tangible.
“We’re about transforming young men into modern day knights,” Clark said, explaining his vision with exceptional clarity. “They had a duty to serve. They honored God and their fellow man and their country.”
According to Stelljes, this vision of transforming young men into modern day knights is well-aligned with the school’s long-standing commitment to develop young men of character.
“They believed in chivalry; in a code of conduct, and they lived by that,” said Stelljes. “That’s the vision that COL Clark sees, and that we’ve always seen. We want to help our cadets to become gentlemen, and understand that character is what you do when no one is looking.”
In addition to its emphasis on character development, St. John’s has long been committed to its cadets developing the leadership skills needed to help them succeed in college and the workplace.
“In the Army, the way I defined leading was to lead higher,” Clark said of his leadership style. “To help my men become everything they could be as soldiers, as fathers, and as citizens. I always asked myself, how can I help them become the people they are destined to be?”
It is this calling to help others to reach their full potential that has motivated Clark in every phase of his career. After retiring from the Army, he led students as the chief operating officer for USD 475, Geary County Schools, a district of approximately 8,000 students and 1,500 employees in Junction City, Kansas.
“Then St. John’s came to my door,” he recalls. “I knew at that point that my calling was to help young men reach their full potential, and become everything and anything they want to be.”
Clark speaks with enthusiasm about his first impressions of the school’s faculty and staff.
“The faculty and staff are all very passionate about what they’re doing, and that is making a difference not just for the young men, but for their families. They care about people, and when you have people who care about others there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”
The current corps of St. John’s cadets have equally impressed Clark. Recalling an initial meeting he had with the current cadet chain of command, Clark speaks with appreciation.
“What was so impressive to me was how respectful and articulate they all were, and how well they work as a team.”
With so much passion and determination for the monumental task of developing the next generation of leaders, Clark credits his own support system as what keeps him motivated to live such a life of such selfless leadership. In addition to his faith, it’s clear that his strength comes from the support of his family.
All four of the Clark children are currently serving in the Armed Forces.
“To know my kids are now on freedom’s frontier protecting our country to include my wife and me, is very humbling,” Clark said with pride. “When your kids are doing for you what you did for them, it makes you very proud. I never asked them to join the military. It was a decision they all made on their own. They are good, solid adults who are serving others with integrity.”
Clark speaks with just as much adoration when describing his wife of 33 years, Andrea.
“My hero in my life is my wife,” says the man who is the recipient of the Legion of Merit and two Bronze Stars. “She embodies everything about grace and shows it by the way she lives. She makes our house a home. As I was fighting for our country, she was fighting for our family. Throughout our marriage, she’s very humbly said, ‘Do what you need to do and I’ll be right beside you.’”
“When Bill was presented with the opportunity to take the position at St. John’s, it was a decision that we made together,” she said. “We looked at it as a good opportunity for him to fulfill a dream. Well, not really a dream. More of a commitment he’s made to mentor young men to become good leaders. That’s something he’s always wanted to do. I’m 100 percent behind him because I believe you should do what you love to do the most.”
When asked what she believes will be her husband’s hallmark on St. John’s and its cadets, it’s no surprise to hear that Andrea Clark’s words echo those of her husband.
“He believes in leading higher, and in choosing to be a person of integrity who does the right thing,” she said. “Bill will always do the best thing, which may not always be the expected thing, but he’ll do what’s best for the individual and the group. St. John’s is in very capable hands. He is extremely passionate about being the catalyst for transformation of the lives of all the people at the school.”
When speaking of his own legacy, Clark is humble.
“St. John’s has nothing to do with Bill Clark,” he said. “What we’re about here is teaching the essence of leadership, and that leadership is about serving others to become the people that God created them to be. I am only an instrument. What I want to is help our cadets understand that you have to find your purpose. What’s your why? If you don’t have that. You just flounder. I’m fortunate. I know my purpose is to lead higher and to help young men become what they are destined to be.”