Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: The principal who loved to skate
"Klutz" is a descriptive word for clumsy and it best describes me when as a youngster I went ice skating. But I did love it despite countless falls and scrapes.
Skating and other winter sports were always popular in Pittsfield. And I recall from the 1950s skating competitions at the winter carnivals and crowded rinks on many of the city parks.
There was also a very popular, privately owned rink at the home of Clark and Elizabeth "Bess" Harding at 300 Williams St. The couple provided skating lessons, skating and hot cocoa for nominal or no fees at all.
The Hardings' dedication to skating and their welcoming setup far outweighed the negatives of the noisome odors of the cow farm next door. The well-kept rink, the warming house and the music from loud speakers created a great experience for both the novice and experienced skater.
The couple taught many a skater the intricacies of figure skating and ice dancing with some of their students making it to the Olympics. The pair also had a lot of time for "free skating," and they even arranged broom hockey games with benches for goals and a No. 10 can as a puck. Every year, the Hardings would also stage a colorful "pageant" with all the kids dressed up and parents present as spectators. In any given season, they would have between 50 and 75 students. Bess would make costumes for the skaters in the pageants and photos would frequently appear in The Berkshire Eagle.
When Egremont School opened in 1951, Clark Harding was appointed the first principal at the school where students saw him as a stern, no-nonsense administrator. My only trip to his office was for breaking a teacher's wooden pointer. Initially I was terrified and would never have guessed him to be a friendly skater.
I did learn to admire him as an educator and, of course, as a skating guru. Clark was born in Pittsfield in 1903 into a prominent local family. His father was a real estate agent and president of the Aggie Bank, and his grandfather had been editor of the Pittsfield Sun, a newspaper founded in 1800.
Clark learned to skate as a youngster, and it became a lifetime passion. He graduated Pittsfield High in 1920 and then from Williams College where he was a champion skater and soccer player. After college graduation, he went on to compete in the U.S. national figure skating competition and took a bronze medal in ice dancing. Clark went to Harvard Law School one year, but it was not to his liking, so he chose to pursue his master's in education and taught in Pittsfield.
Bess Harding came to Pittsfield from Scotland in 1907 and had grown into an accomplished ice dancer. Clark and Bess met through skating and married in 1931. Six years later, they built their home on Williams Street where Clark designed the sizeable skating rink in the backyard.
In 1947, when the city had a water shortage and rinks could not be filled, Clark had three 250-gallon water tanks installed in his basement and carted in pick-up loads of well water to fill the tanks.
The Hardings operated their rink for 15 years until 1957 when the maintenance became more difficult. Clark retired in 1971 and passed away six years later at age 73. The rink is no more, but interestingly the current homeowner is a former owner of The Berkshire Eagle, Mark Miller, who grew up a block or so away.
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