EUSTIS — Coach Clark Blake, decorated Marine, championship football coach and both a Citizen and Teacher of the Year, wears it well.
Yet, he does not "wear it" at all.
In a sometimes sad era of self-promotion and "getting ahead," residents who have lived in this "City of Bright Tomorrows" are convinced that many of those bright tomorrows will be directly attributable to their remarkable neighbor, educator and friend.
"There was never a man that loved God or his students more," said Lib Hippler, who saw three of her four Eustis High alumni children coached and mentored by Blake.
Her daughter, Kathy Hippler Sommerfeld, now living in North Carolina and having raised her own accomplished family, "just adored him," Mrs. Hippler said, "both as a teacher and as a leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Bible studies."
"Coach Johnny" Saunders, something of a Lake County legend himself for effectively using youth football as a vehicle for promoting good citizenship and racial harmony, points to Blake's consistency as a key character trait.
"Clark Blake," Saunders said, "is first class every time you see him, every time you speak with him. Some guys can be totally different from one day to the next. With Coach Blake, what you get is first class all the time, every time."
"First and foremost," said Blake with unabashed honesty, "is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
But not far behind that holy motivation is "my time in the Corps," he reports. "It carried over into every aspect of my career as a teacher and coach, especially in applying the 'three D's' — dedication, discipline and determination."
An honor graduate from boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina — 56 years ago this month — the 75-year-old follows a lifelong physical fitness regimen and volunteers his time leading recovering drug addicts in leveraging physical fitness and healthy lifestyle choices to help with their personal battles over addictions.
Marine Sgt. Blake was credited with winning battles of his own in Vietnam — leading reconnaissance patrols deep into enemy territory while assigned to the 3rd Marine Division.
Blake's Navy Commendation Medal citation, with Combat "V" denoting valor, described a handful of occasions during which "he courageously led his men and employed supporting arms fire in a precise, daring and tactically sound manner" to ensure mission accomplishment."
Returning stateside to attend Northeast Louisiana State College on a football scholarship, the next four years were a blur of gridiron stardom and undergraduate and graduate studies with academic honors.
Within a few short years of reporting to Eustis High School in 1971, Blake was leading Panther football and soccer teams to new heights and was garnering Coach of the Year and Teacher of the Year accolades from regional, state and national entities as diverse as the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation, the Jaycees and Kiwanis, the Daily Commercial, the Florida Council on Economic Education, the Florida Athletic Coaches Association and the University of Central Florida.
His classroom presentations are still talked about by graduates and teaching peers for their attention-holding excellence punctuated by showmanship, surprise, zany costumes and the introduction of college-level concepts.
But Coach ducks the personal attention in favor of pointing to "the coaches and teachers of great integrity who instilled that mindset to always give your best, to stretch beyond your limits," he said.
"I am especially grateful for Cheryl, my wife of 51 years," said Blake, "and for our two sons Bradley and Brant, two wonderful daughters-in-law — and nine awesome grandchildren.
"We as a family have been so blessed to be a small part of this community all these years," he said.