Kenneth M. Clarke '63
1999 Award of Honor
Ken Clarke is a native of Johnson City, Tenn., where he graduated from Science Hill High School. While attending ETSU, he participated in a number of college activities, including the marching and concert bands, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity, Scabbard and Blade Military Society, and ROTC, where he was an undergraduate officer. He held the office of ritualist in Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, was a member of the ROTC honor guard, president of the marching band, drum major of the ROTC band, and performed with both the college dance band and the brass choir.
Clarke graduated in 1963 with a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He completed the Infantry Officer School at Fort Benning, Ga., and the Jungle Warfare and Survival School at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., before reporting to the First Infantry Division (The Big Red One). The remainder of his active duty assignment was during the Vietnam era. He completed his military obligation as a company commander with the 80th Division and was honorably discharged with the rank of captain.
Clarke began his civilian career by returning to Johnson City as a management trainee with Arcata Graphics, where he progressed to a customer management position, serving national clients such as Time-Life and Random House. He later joined Sperry Univac and Raytheon in Bristol, and moved quickly into corporate management positions.
Before his retirement from Raytheon in 1990, Clarke earned his commercial pilot's license in lighter-than-air aircraft, and he and his wife opened Shootin' the Breeze Hot Air Balloon Company. Influenced by his love of ETSU athletics, the design for the company's first balloon was an easy one. In June 1988, "Bucky" was inflated for the first time on the campus practice football field. Over the years, Clarke has donated hundreds of hours of the balloon's flight time to events associated with the university, both on and off campus. "Bucky" has flown in six states, including Florida's Disney World, appeared on ESPN, and has won awards in several balloon competitions. The company grew to a fleet of five balloons and a management program for three corporate balloons, along with flight instruction and roof-top advertising.
Clarke's dedication to his alma mater is not limited to the Buccaneer balloon. He is a member of the Distinguished President's Trust, a member and past board officer of the Pirate Club, a member of Phi Beta Chi alumni fraternity, a supporter of the ETSU Foundation, and a devoted fan. He and his wife, Brenda, live in Johnson City. They have three children: Deborah Smith, Donna Greer, and Kevin Clarke - ETSU class of 1991. Five grandchildren complete the Clarke family.