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Local volunteers Dave and Mari Clack to be honored by Spokane’s University District

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 10, 2017

Dave Clack was chairman of the organization that envisioned Spokane’s University District, while his wife, Mari, is a longtime supporter of higher education. The U-District is honoring them Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Dave Clack was chairman of the organization that envisioned Spokane’s University District, while his wife, Mari, is a longtime supporter of higher education. The U-District is honoring them Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Community volunteers Dave and Mari Clack will be honored Wednesday for their role in helping establish Spokane’s University District and their ongoing support for higher education.

The recognition takes place during the University District’s annual celebration, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Gonzaga University’s Hemmingson Center Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public.

Through their long involvement, the Clacks have “touched every organization, every square inch” of the 770-acre University District, said Lars Gilberts, the U-District’s executive director. “We wanted to make sure that story is told.”

Dave Clack was one of four chairs of Momentum 87, which first envisioned a center for higher education and research in Spokane. He and other chairs met weekly for 10 years to work on strategies to diversify the economy and bring living-wage jobs to Spokane.

The other Momentum 87 chairs were former Avista CEO Paul Redmond; Mike Murphy of Central Pre-Mix; and the late Bill Cowles, a former Spokesman-Review publisher.

“The economy was flagging because we were heavily resource based,” said Clack, a former chairman of Old National Bancorp.

Payrolls had shrunk in the timber, mining and agricultural industries. With a consultant’s help, a group of business and political leaders identified 10 strategies for improving the local economy. They also raised $12 million to see Momentum 87’s vision through.

“It was a no BS, full speed ahead project that worked,” Dave Clack said.

Establishing a university district on vacant railroad property east of downtown was a critical part of the strategy. Dave Clack worked with BNSF Railway to negotiate the purchase of 38 acres of railroad property.

“They were good to work with,” Clack said of BNSF. “They gave us favorable pricing on the property.”

BNSF agreed to sell the property –a few acres at a time – to the state of Washington. The acreage became WSU-Spokane’s campus.

Dave Clack also envisioned the University District Gateway Bridge, which will open in September. The nearly $12 million pedestrian bridge will span the railroad tracks, connecting the south U-District to the East Sprague neighborhood.

“The need to bridge the community was something he was aware of in the late 1990s,” Gilberts said.

Mari Clack’s volunteer work, meanwhile, complemented her husband’s efforts, Gilberts said. She spent 12 years on the University of Washington Board of Regents and served on the UW Medical School advisory board.

Mari Clack is a co-founder and past president of the Women Helping Women fund, a nonprofit that has raised $6 million for programs supporting women and children in Spokane County.

The Clacks also helped create Friends of WWAMI/Spokane, which supports local medical students with scholarships and other financial needs.

“The idea was to let students know we cared about their well-being, and we were there to support them in every way that we could,” Dave Clack said. “If the engine in their car blew up, we wanted to make sure they had immediate access to a rental vehicle.”

“I still get notes from students who are now doctors,” Mari Clack said. “I just believe that we’re meant to give back and help other people.”

The Clacks say it’s gratifying to see the U-District taking off. More than $740 million in public, private and institutional investment has gone into the district since 2004.

Washington State University’s new medical school recently welcomed its first class of students to the WSU-Spokane campus.

WSU also has its colleges of pharmacy and nursing on the Spokane campus, as well as its health policy and administration, nutrition and exercise physiology, and speech and hearing sciences programs.

The U-District also houses a medical school partnership between UW and Gonzaga University, and a medical residency clinic. Eastern Washington University has several programs in the U-District, including physical and occupational therapy.

The future vision for the U-District also includes university research leading to spin-off companies and local jobs. Gilberts, the executive director, said he envisions the U-District becoming a resource for companies across the region.

“Things are moving in the right direction,” Dave Clack said. “It’s a huge foot print in which a lot of activity will take place.”

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