A miraculous meeting: Celebrity visit leads to blessing for family with 4 disabled sons
By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret Morning News
REXBURG, Idaho - It's hard to miss an answer to prayer when it comes knocking on your front door.
Yet that's what happened, according to members of the Rick and Ruth Clark family, who have spent the last several weeks marveling at what they believe is God's response to the prayers of their sons, all four of whom are in wheelchairs as muscular dystrophy has taken its toll on their mobility. They have little to no use of their limbs.
There was no spontaneous healing, no overnight cure. But for the Clark family, a "miracle" they could never have imagined or hoped for occurred.
It was a busy Saturday last summer at the Clark home, with laundry and household chores in progress. Ruth happened to be outside as her brother Roy, a local sheriff, drove past, escorting nationally syndicated radio talk show host Glenn Beck, who was in Idaho on a fundraising visit for then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
She waved and went about her business, thinking to herself: "I'm so glad they didn't stop. We're a mess."
But minutes later, Beck was at her door, visiting with her sons and stepping over piles of laundry as they showed him their hunting trophies displayed throughout the house.
Ruth was mortified, but her sons were delighted.
After a few minutes visiting, Beck made his way to the living room, greeted her with a "God bless you," gave her a hug and left, saying he would see them again.
Ruth was still reeling from the embarrassment a couple of hours later when her brother called, apologizing for the impromptu visit. Not the way she would have designed it, she said, but that was that. Or so the family thought.
A couple of months passed.
Fall was in full swing, and in Idaho, that means hunting season. The Clark boys - Russ, Chris, Lael and Ben - were thinking of big game between doctor visits. During a trip to University Hospital in Salt Lake City, Lael hit a ridge in the sidewalk in his wheelchair and fell head-first to the pavement, breaking several bones in his face.
After a hospital stay, he and his mother returned home, and the family set up a hospital bed in the living room for Lael, whose mouth was wired shut. As the Clarks adjusted their routine around the latest challenge, there was a knock at the door.
"There (Beck) was again," Ruth said, stunned that his promised return had actually materialized. He came in and visited for nearly an hour with the entire family, talking up the latest news and hearing their tales.
Again he said goodbye, and the boys knew they would have something to look forward to as Beck said he would return in February for the dedication of the Rexburg Temple. It was a friendship in the making.
A week before Christmas Eve, the Clarks got an unexpected phone call. "Ruth, we've kept it a secret long enough," said the excited voice on the other end of the line. "We thought we better tell you before you hear it from somebody else."
The news? Beck had worked with local organizers to plan a benefit event for the Clark family, to be held Feb. 1 at the Civic Auditorium in Idaho Falls. It would be a Christmas to remember.
"I was just speechless," Ruth recalls, the look of surprise and amazement still reflected in the telling. "I've cried so much (with joy) that I'm numb by now. Things just started rolling after that."
Ten minutes after the phone call, a television news crew was on their doorstep - the first of several to seek them out, opening their lives and their challenges to an audience of thousands they didn't know and would never meet.
"At first it was uncomfortable, but it's OK now," Ruth tells a reporter as the rest of her family nods. They've had some time to adjust to the spotlight.
Feb. 1 came quickly, with preparations and anticipation running high in the Clark home. It was to have been the weekend of the Rexburg Temple dedication, but the death of LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley reordered plans for some who were scheduled to attend the benefit.
As the guests of honor at a VIP reception before the event began, the Clarks mingled with southeast Idaho's elite, sharing their appreciation with all who had helped organize a night they say they'll never forget. Beck and his wife were mingling with the crowd, and he was preparing to go onstage when he got a phone call.
It was Jon Huntsman Sr., who had seen Beck with the Clarks on TV the night before. He asked Beck how much money he thought the benefit would raise. "About $100,000," was the reply. "Then you tell the Clarks there is a check in the mail from Jon Huntsman," Beck told the crowd that night.
And he had yet another surprise for the Clarks' growing list of "wow" moments as the show progressed. Musician and hunter-extraordinaire Ted Nugent was calling from Texas. "Old uncle Ted wants to take you boys on a hunting trip," he told the Clarks, as the boys beamed. "Anywhere you want to go."
Not to be outdone in the dreams-come-true category, the master of ceremonies had a presentation of her own from a local jeweler: an eight-diamond necklace for Ruth - seven diamonds representing her immediate family members and the eighth a reminder of the community that organized the benefit.
"It was just an awesome night," Ruth remembers, "and Glenn, bless his heart, it's a miracle he crossed our path."
The next morning, the Clarks capped their big night with Beck during a private breakfast meeting, where he told them about his conversion to the LDS Church.
Huntsman's $100,000 check arrived two weeks ago, and Rexburg Mayor Shawn Larsen presented it to the Clarks, who've decided to use part of it to adapt a donated van for wheelchair access. Once the van is ready, they'll be able to travel together for the first time as a family - and even better, say the boys, their parents won't have to lift them in and out of the vehicle.
After that, they'll decide whether the remaining funds will allow them to build a new home with wheelchair access and wide hallways, or whether they'll simply modify their small, existing home so the boys can make their way around a bit easier. They've had offers of help from several local building suppliers and contractors for everything from plumbing to cement work to granite countertops.
And though it's been almost three weeks since their night onstage, the Clarks say they are still amazed at the depth and drama of their answers to prayer.
"It's really too much to comprehend right now," said 29-year-old Lael, a former drag racer who enjoyed fast cars and snowmobiles before his disease put an end to that phase of his life. "It's like a big dream that's hit. You would never think it would ever happen to you or your family. To have that happen, and then all this ... (Glenn) lives clear across the country, but he happened to be here, and to do this for us is just amazing."
The van and the hunting trip are the icing on the cake.
Russell, 26, is still able to work part-time at a local market research company as a quality assurance supervisor. He says the fact that so many dreams came true, virtually all at once, "hasn't really all sunk in yet. It's a blessing, and it's just going to be a lot easier on our parents not having to worry about lifting us, and having more room in the house to get around."
He told his brothers they could choose their own hunting adventures, but he's looking to "shoot a big old grizzly bear in Alaska. It's awesome that people out there are willing to help out no matter what."
The family has managed, though they acknowledge there have been tough times.
"With everything we've gone through - we all walked until we were 13 or 14 - so seeing what they went through in a way got me prepared," Russell said. "It was hard when I went to a wheelchair, but I have brothers that were a good example for me."
The quiet one of the bunch, 30-year-old Ben, completed an associate's degree at BYU-Idaho in architectural technology and is working on his bachelor's degree.
"It's been a rough time, but it's paid off in the end," he said. "We'll just never give up."
Christopher, 33, a former police dispatcher, says he initially had a hard time accepting the fact that he would always be a quadriplegic. There was a time when "I didn't make the best choices." Going through his second divorce, his life hit "rock bottom," he says. "But about five years ago, life turned around and my attitude changed with the support of my sister and the rest of my family." Watching his only sister, Rebecca, deal with dying four years ago put a new perspective on his own troubles.
Her help, his family's support and "being active in the (LDS) Church, just turned me completely around," Christopher said. "I'm at peace with everything. I'm not angry, bitter or mad like I was when I was younger. I don't feel sorry for myself or complain. I've just accepted things and love life and enjoy it the best I can."
As the family patriarch, Rick had to quit working several years ago due to his own disability. He looks back at 34 years of marriage and family with miracles sprinkled along the way, some of them disguised as challenges.
"When I first met Ruth I was inactive in the church, but she married me and turned me around," he said. "You find out what's really important in life. It's your faith, your love for Jesus Christ and your family."
The death of his only daughter, Rebecca, has fortified Rick's faith that one day, they will be together again - healthy and well and gratified at having met life's challenges head-on.
"I look at it this way: she is preparing everything up there for us to meet her," he said. "It will be a joyous day when that happens."
People frequently ask if they would change their circumstances if they could.
"We say no - we've learned a lot along the way," Rick said.
For Ruth, who supports the family working full-time at BYU-Idaho by day and as caregiver by night, "this is normal life," she said. "You do what you have to do."
Ruth grew up with a father who had muscular dystrophy, so she was well-acquainted with the disease and its devastation. She and her sisters were tested and told they were not carriers of the disease, but life didn't turn out that way.
"But I wouldn't change it," she said.
As for the future, their financial good fortune and the night they'll never forget: "I cried half that night," Ruth remembers, the emotion welling up again.
The word "miracle" is sprinkled all through their conversation.
"I don't know," she said. "We're just used to making do with what we've had."