By Barbara Sherf
“In memory of Carmella Clark, fine horse woman, star volunteer, generous friend.” That is the inscription for a bench that will look out at the horses and an open field near Monastery Stables in Mt. Airy dedicated to the legacy of Carmella Clark.
Born in Philadelphia on June 17, 1953, Carmella Vernette Clark, a longtime Germantown resident and biochemist, died on Sept. 4, four days after suffering an inoperable brain hemorrhage. A service was held on Sept. 16 at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses Germantown, where her husband of 36 years, Mark Paulmier, is a minister.
While at West Chester University working on her undergraduate degree, Clark learned that horseback riding was offered as an elective phys ed course, and the city girl jumped at the chance to learn to ride. She and Mark met while she was working on her graduate degree and he on his undergraduate degree at Temple University.
From 1994 to ’98 she competed at recognized dressage shows at Training Level on her Thoroughbred, Blue (Statesboro Blues). From 2008 to 2010 she competed at Training and then First Level with her Oldenburg, Tachyon. After 2010 her enthusiasm for shows (or maybe Tachyon’s enthusiasm) waned, and she concentrated on riding the trails.
On Oct. 21, a service was held overlooking the horse corral and riding ring at Monastery Stables in Mt. Airy for her fellow riders, Friends of the Wissahickon Trail Ambassadors, and her husband. The setting was apropos as Carmella spent countless volunteer hours at the barn, tending the garden, advising on horse health, pitching in on work days and more. At one point she even jumped in to serve as barn manager, and she and Mark moved into a cottage on the property.
“Those were perhaps some of our happiest years living here and being so connected to the horses and nature,” Paulmier said.
Prior to her retirement, Carmella worked at Thomas Jefferson University for 25 years doing cancer research. She served on the Board of Kitchens Lane Stables, Boarders and Stewards of the Monastery (BSM), was active in the Pennsylvania Equine Council and was a founding member of the Philadelphia Saddle Club. She was a Trail Ambassador with Friends of the Wissahickon and was known for her baking skills and blueberry jam. She also learned how to spin yarn from wool and demonstrated her skills at historical sites for young people.
“She was passionate about helping young people learn new things like horseback riding and spinning,” said Paulmier.
Theresa Sarmina, who served as Master of Ceremonies, remembered working closely with Carmella in 1994 upon learning that the city was putting the Monastery property up for a lease. The two women, along with a small group of volunteers, formed BSM, a nonprofit charitable organization, where Carmella served in a host of leadership positions over the years. In 2006, Sarmina, along with Carmella and a handful of volunteers later founded another non-profit organization, Kitchens Lane Stables, to take over the daily management of the stables.
“I can tell you that she loved the horses and said that managing that aspect was the easy part. She was not so thrilled with managing all of the various (human) personalities and their demands,” Sarmina said. “Maybe it was her scientific mind and the discipline she developed from the research that led her to be such a knowledgeable horsewoman, from which we surely benefitted over this past quarter of a century.”
Indeed, Carmella sent numerous letters to the editor of this publication about her pet cause, dogs off-leash in the Wissahickon, that sparked her to become an FOW Trail Ambassador. Kris Soffa, a fellow Trail Ambassador, remembered Carmella’s passion. “She will be remembered by us as a fierce defender of nature, a lover of the park and a courageous woman. Her smile is greatly missed.”
Diane Garvey, who headed the memorial planning committee, met Carmella in April of 2005 as a new rider with the Philadelphia Saddle Club. “At first I was not an experienced rider and was looking for people to go with me on the trails for just an easy ride. Carmella was the only one willing to trail ride with me at my speed,” noted Garvey, who guessed the two had taken over 100 rides together. “During those rides we would discuss books, American history and magazine articles about horses. It was like a combination trail ride and book club meeting.”
Chestnut Hill resident Liz Jarvis first encountered Carmella 10 years ago in the park with Jarvis’ off leash dogs. Jarvis, who had formerly been a rider, sheepishly complied with Carmella’s demand from atop her horse to leash the dogs. Two years later Jarvis joined the Philadelphia Saddle Club. “I will always remember how she talked with a soft voice, so if I rode behind her, I had to ask her to turn her head for me to hear. What an interesting contrast with her strong personality,” Jarvis remembered. “Whenever I come to Monastery Stables, I think of Carmella. It is hard for me to imagine this place without her.”
In addition to her husband, Carmella is survived by sister Charlene Clark and brothers, Chester and Carlton, as well as many in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends. Donations for a memorial bench may be made to the Boarders and Stewards of the Monastery (BSM) in honor of Carmella Clark, 1000 Kitchens Lane, Philadelphia, 19119.
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf is a former member of the Philadelphia Saddle Club who was rescued from a fall on the ice by Carmella Clark. Barb’s late father used to ride with Carmella, and both father and daughter shared a great respect for her equestrian and people skills. Barb can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.