We had the opportunity this past week to interview retired ZHS English teacher, Joanne “Jo” Beddingfield Clark. Not unlike our other experiences in conducting interviews with community contributors, we uncovered so much more about this classy lady in addition to her years as an instructor in the public schools. Jo imparted much to the Zephyrhills community throughout her years of service as a civic-minded community participant, Cub Scout leader, PTA organizer, church member, and regular vocalist in community events as well as a teacher. She talked lovingly of her role as a mother and spoke proudly of her five sons and precious grandchildren.
Jo arrived via the railway depot when her husband, Roy Beddingfield and she relocated to Zephyrhills in 1948 and he took a position as foreman of the Seaboard Railroad. Many will recognize Beddingfield who served on the Zephyrhills City Council (the youngest elected official until 2005 when Danny Burgess was elected). He was Zephyrhills Fire Chief and instrumental in the establishment of the first fire department. Fire-fighting is an important part of Jo’s family heritage. Jo’s father was a fire chief and encouraged his son-in-law in the field and even assisted Roy in developing the specs for the first-ever Zephyrhills fire engine. He also as developed a training program for the department. Perhaps less known was the fact that Roy was quite an athlete and filled in for Coach Johnny Clements in 1948 to prepare the ZHS football team for its season until Clements was released from his professional baseball contract. Unfortunately Roy passed away suddenly in 1978.
When asked to share her most treasured teaching experiences, in her humble manner, Jo told us about the fine teachers she had worked with over time who inspired children and co-workers. She shared about the years of year-round schools with ’45-15’ and double-sessions and teaching grades 7 through 12. Her favorite teaching topic was William Shakespeare. Particularly she enjoyed Romeo and Juliet. It was not difficult to interest young ladies in the story with the romantic tales but enticing the young men into the study was more of a challenge. Ingenuously, she wove in the play’s sub-plots of aggression, intrigue and conflict, and ‘voila,’ they were hooked on the classic play as well! She recalled one of her most rewarding adventures was a field trip to the Polk Theatre in Lakeland to see Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet. She remembered parent chaperones telling her in astonishment that some of the ZHS students were mouthing the lines from the play in perfect rhythm with the actors.
We learned that Jo was a den mother for her son’s Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for many years and an active member of PTA. Tommy Eikland, Tommy Alston as well as her sons and so many more enjoyed the weekly lessons, crafts and camping adventures. She said sometimes she did a great deal of chauffeuring of the boys to and from meetings. PTA was a significant organization throughout the 1940’s to early 1970’s in Zephyrhills and Jo was there as they developed goals, built and funded projects and worked closely with the schools. The annual Halloween carnival was an event for the entire community and Jo served as Homeroom mother and recalled colorful fun, costumes and frivolity.
As a community member, Jo is particularly proud of the work of the Junior Women’s Club. She was President and served with many others. Their annual project was the Zephyrhills Follies in conjunction with Founder’s Day and the club produced a rather magnificent talent show. It took place for a few years at the Zephyrhills Theater and later in the Municipal Auditorium for a packed crowd and a two-night performance. Jo was a regular organizer and well-known as a singer with a melodious trio that also included Jean Murphy and Bobby Hooks (occasionally Elaine Warfield was a part of the group.) Can you just hear the likes of song titles she shared with us from the era? … Can’t Help Loving That Man; Rag Time Cowboy Joe? She recalled a great dance duet of the Charleston that was performed by Lois Linville and Frances Brown while Libby Peel was usually the music director.
Jo enlightened us about one of the popular local projects of the Junior Women’s Club, a 1950’s cookbook; the introduction of the cookbook states, “The Junior Women’s Club of Zephyrhills, Florida was organized and federated in 1949. Since that time it has been actively engaged in public services such as: welfare and health, polio drive, Sunland Training Center in Gainesville and many other worthwhile projects.” The developers of the cookbook were: Lois Linville, Bobbie Hooks, Mary Ellen Ahrens, Lea Bales, Frances Brown, Betsey Brownlee, Audrey Chenkins, Dorothy Hunter and Georgia Phillips. We asked Jo if we could share one of her authentic 1950’s recipes with our readers from the vintage cookbook and she graciously agreed:
Congealed Vegetable Salad (Asheville Salad)
Bring to boil one can of tomato soup. Stir in one cake of cream cheese and one package of unflavored gelatin which has soaked 10 minutes in ½ cup of cold water. Cool; stir in 1 cup of salad dressing, 1 cup of chopped celery, a little onion and dash of salt.
Perhaps it is somewhat prophetic in the manner in which our lives unfold. Sometimes as we reflect, we see interesting connections… Such was the case for Jo as she recalled that she first heard a young man named John T.V. Clark play a magnificent trumpet solo of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White at one of these annual follies. Later after both she and John were widowed, they would forge a wonderful marriage and write many more chapters of Jo’s rich life together.
John T.V. Clark appeared on the scene in Zephyrhills in 1948 and would build the school band program from scratch. In 2008, the new band room at the school site where he taught was named in honor of him and his family attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. While a student at Florida Southern College, John was drafted into World War II service and rose to the rank of second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, flying as the navigator on a B-24 “Liberator” bomber from Shipham Air Force Base England. When the war ended, he resumed his studies in Music and English at Florida Southern. He obtained his master’s degree in Music from Columbia University. He took the position as Band Director at Zephyrhills High School in the fall of 1948, where he taught for 30 years. His first wife, Audrey who served as a school social worker for many years in the area, passed away in 1978 and John retired soon after. John and Jo married several years later. Throughout his life, John was very active, playing with various bands in the Tampa Bay area. His primary instrument was trumpet, but on occasion he played bass guitar, keyboard, and valve trombone. He backed up such notables as Burt Bacharach, Liberace, Vic Damone, Patty Paige, and Mel Torme.
Jo told us that their first date was to a Jazz concert in Buena Vista but included a dinner at the local Wendy’s, which she always teased John about. It is so clear in talking with Jo that she and John shared a passionate love of the arts. They clearly envisioned a world that was enriched by music, art and literature and saw it through a lovely filter that they imparted to their hundreds of students throughout time. They both enjoyed traveling after retirement.
Jo has great joy in her sons, Steve Beddingfield, class of 1970; Larry Beddingfield, class of 1973; Kenneth Clark, class of 1972; Steven Clark, class of 1975; and Bruce Clark, class of 1978 and their nine grandchildren.
We invite our readers to enjoy the memory book about John T.V. Clark at: http://www.fivay.org/zhs/zhs21a.html and would ask that you share recollections of Jo Beddingfield Clark and the other community members mentioned in the article. We thank Mrs. Clark for the gracious interview!