Norman E. Clarke Sr. was born August 27, 1892. His father, James Clarke, was a veterinarian who left a successful practice in Ontario and relocated to Mount Pleasant. James died in 1899. His widow, Hannah, continued living in Mount Pleasant, supporting her family by working as a seamstress.
Norman Clarke Sr. was a self-made man. In June 1908 Clarke took his first full-time job, working in a Mount Pleasant factory. He found factory work unrewarding and, with the encouragement of his mother, continued to both work and attend school. In his senior year of high school, Clarke dropped out to seek his fortune in Detroit. Eventually he found work as a clerk in the Cadillac Motor Car Co.
Hannah Clarke, however, urged her son to finish his education. Eventually young Norman yielded and enrolled in a program that allowed him to finish high school and accumulate credits in the "Normal." In June 1913, Clarke graduated from Central with a teacher's certificate. In September 1913, he began teaching in Ewen, located in the far western portion of Michigan's upper peninsula.
Although he had a teaching position, Clarke was dissatisfied. In Ewen he met a doctor who interested him in medicine. After two years of teaching, Clarke returned to Mount Pleasant and again enrolled at the Normal. His plan was to receive sufficient education to be admitted into a medical school. However, his resolve wavered and, after a year as a student, Clarke accepted a position as principal of a school in Saginaw.
In Saginaw, Clarke again found himself in the company of a doctor, this time a surgeon, who asked Clarke to serve as his assistant. This experience reinforced Clarke's desire to become a doctor, and in 1917 he entered the University of Michigan Medical School. After receiving his medical degree, Dr. Clarke did postgraduate work at Ann Arbor and received a masters of science degree. He specialized in the emerging fields of cardiology and electro-cardiology. When the director of Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital inquired about someone to found the hospital's proposed "Heart Station," the first in Detroit, Norm Clarke's name was put forward and accepted.
Dr. Clarke began work at Henry Ford Hospital in 1923. In 1926 he left Ford Hospital and began a private practice in cardiology, which he continued until 1980. In addition to private practice, Dr. Clarke was involved in a variety of other medical activities. In the late 1920s he founded Grace Hospital's Heart Station and indigent clinic. His work with the poor led Dr. Clarke to found the midwest's first HMO- type clinic during the 1930s. Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s Dr. Clarke developed the departments of cardiology and electro-cardiology and research at Detroit's Providence Hospital.
Beyond his medical interests, Norman Clarke liked collecting. In the 1940s, Dr. Clarke began to collect books by Mark Twain. Book collecting remained his hobby for the rest of his life. Over time, however, Clarke became most interested in the history of the Great Lakes and the Old Northwest Territory.
Eventually Dr. Clarke's collection became too large for him to manage. Dr. Clarke decided to give it to his alma mater in Mount Pleasant. He made this gift out of respect for the community in which he grew up and also to thank the school which gave him his basic education.
On February 2, 1954, Norman Clarke Sr. signed a deed of gift donating his collection to Central Michigan College. The deed provided that his library was to serve as a nucleus for a new library on the Mount Pleasant campus, dedicated to the history of Michigan and the Old Northwest Territory. In recognition of the gift, this new institution was named the Clarke Historical Library. Although Dr. Clarke had formally given his material to CMU, he retained a continued interest in "his" library for the thirty years of life that remained to him.
In addition to historical works, Dr. Clarke occasionally purchased a volume of children's fiction or a nineteenth century grade-school textbook, as well as one large collection of children's material. The death of his wife, Lucile, led Clarke to seek a way to memorialize her life and lighten his own grief. He came upon the idea of donating his children's books to CMU. Dr. Clarke formally donated the books to CMU in 1971 as the Lucile Clarke Memorial Children's Library.
Until his death Dr. Clarke continued to support the library generously by donating both historical and children's volumes. Norman E. Clarke Sr. died in 1984.