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Cop Killed in Line of Duty to Receive Memorial, 30 Years in the Making

By Patty Wetli | September 12, 2013 6:41am
 A memorial to Officer Richard Clark will be dedicated Sept. 28 in the park that bears his name.
Officer Richard Clark
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ROSCOE VILLAGE — On April 3, 1986, Jim Clark was working a construction gig.

He'd retired from the Chicago Police Department less than two weeks before, and old habits dying hard, had tuned into the police scanner while on the job.

News came over the radio that a cop had been killed responding to a bizarre hostage situation in the 1400 block of West Lill Street.

"I was wondering why it was taking so long for them to identify the officer," Clark said.

When he pulled into his driveway and saw his former partner's car parked outside the house, "I knew what it was," he said.

Clark's brother Richard, "Richie" to family, was the unidentified officer. The department had been waiting to locate and notify Jim before releasing Richie's name.

Richard Clark should have been on the construction site with his older brother. But that day he'd opted for an overtime shift out of the Belmont District, where both Clarks had been assigned.

Instead of swinging a hammer, Officer Clark, a 6-foot 2-inch bear of a man who even at 48 was still a standout athlete, took a bullet from the rifle of a man who'd already killed his landlord over a rent dispute.

Richard Clark left behind a wife, Erika, and two children, Julie and "Little Rich." He was also survived by his parents, three sisters and one big brother.

Nearly 30 years later, Jim, now 81, feels the loss as keenly as ever.

"I think about him every day; I still hurt from it," he said.

Asked what he misses most about Richie, the surviving Clark's eyes mist and his voice cracks as he waves the question away with his hand.

"Don't get me started on that."

As painful as the memories can be, the Clark family is now on a mission to make sure Richie and his service to and sacrifice for Chicagoans aren't forgotten.

For the last two years, Darlene Lyons, Jim's daughter, has been spearheading an effort to have a memorial to her uncle placed in Richard Clark Park, 3400 N. Rockwell St., which was named after the fallen officer in 1986.

Tucked away behind Lane Tech College Prep High School, just a stone's throw from the Belmont District police station, Clark Park and its hardscrabble 10 acres hold a sentimental value for Jim.

The Clark boys grew up in Roscoe Village — "My mother never moved off Roscoe Street" — before it was Roscoe Village.

At the time, midget auto racing took place "right where the park is," Jim said. "My dad used to take care of the track."

The senior Clark would bring his sons to the track after races on weekends, and Jim and Richie would be thrilled at the sight of their dad driving the cars around.

But over the years, the connection between Richie and the park that bears his name began to fade.

"I would drive by there, and the sign would be broken," Lyons said. "The original plaque was stolen years ago."

By chance, Lyons came across a flier for a fundraiser at Clark Park and connected with members of the Clark Park Advisory Council, who encouraged her to pursue the idea of a memorial.

"I feel like I was guided," she said.

With Richard Clark's son deceased and his widow and daughter living in Arlington Heights, Lyons has taken the lead on making the memorial a reality.

"They, as a family, have been through a lot," she said. "It was easier for myself to get it going."

Now a grandmother, Lyons had just given birth to her fourth child when Richie was killed. He had been a constant presence in her life.

"When I first started working, he was on mass transit" duty, she recalled. "I worked 3 to 11 [p.m.] for the airlines and parked Downtown. He'd wait on his shift to walk me to my car."

To raise money for the memorial, Lyons called on connections within the Police Department — her daughter and son-in-law are both Foster District officers — and received a hefty assist from the Fraternal Order of Police, which donated the hall for a fundraiser and helped sell tickets to the event.

"We had a full house," she said.

Clark's former partners and old friends turned out. So did fresh recruits who weren't even born when Rich was killed.

"At least three young on-duty police officers stopped by and made a donation. They wouldn't eat dinner and did not know my uncle," Lyons said. "It just shows what incredible support they give each other."

The event netted $18,000, which, along with the planned sale of engraved brick pavers, has enabled Lyons to expand the scope of the memorial.

What started off as a simple headstone now encompasses a marker, a pair of granite benches and landscaping in the shape of the police badge star. The entire memorial will be set within a grove of trees at the park's northern edge.

"To have it be such a prominent part of the park, I think that's truly an honor," she said.

Richie would likely cringe at all the fuss.

"He wasn't that type of guy," said Jim. "But he has no choice in this."

The family plans to dedicate the memorial Sept. 28, with Clark's sister Shirley flying in from California for the bittersweet occasion.

Said Lyons, "He's just missed so much ... of life."