May is Foster Care Month, so we’d like to honor Dorothy and Ellsworth Clark, foster parents to Cody Black (1947-2010). Dorothy and Ellsworth not only taught and nurtured Cody in his teenage years, but went to great lengths to learn about and love the Navajo culture and people. They visited Cody’s home in Arizona several times, gave of their time and resources to the Navajo Nation, and welcomed many of Cody’s family into their home. While many foster parents and children did not share such positive experiences, Dorothy and Ellsworth’s example stands out as an example of inclusion and sensitivity.
An excerpt from the pages of Dorothy Clark’s life history:
The seventeen-year-old Navajo youth you came into our home as a foster brother was for some time the object of our natural curiosity and concern. He spoke only when spoken to and released information in carefully-guarded phrases. We had previously prepared ourselves in learning regarding his native culture and tried in everything to make him feel at ease with us.I finally succeeded as an elder sister in gaining his complete confidence. He would come to my bedroom, sniffing perfumes, then sit down and discuss with me the gamut of teenage problems and uncertainties. But we weren’t prepared for the final proof that we had been accepted. Rushing in from school one day, this youth released—without warning—a long, uninhibited yell as he trotted off to the new-found security of his foster home. 1
Vaida Black, wife of the late Cody Black, shared the following memories of Cody’s experiences living with the Clark’s:
I know she had him take guitar lessons where he learned his notes. After, he’d just pick it out. Cody was great with music. She helped him to improve his talent. She had him start painting and making signs for different stores in the area. Once he was a husband and a father he used his drawing in so many ways. When his children ran for a school office they always asked dad to help make posters. That was his specialty. He loved it and so did the kids.She had done some of his genealogy for him that I have been looking for. I just smiled and told myself, she was so good to him. She had written down when he received his priesthood, that I had been searching for. I was just amazed, especially knowing how busy she was. She still had Cody on her list. I myself was always thought she loved Cody just like her own son. She did so much for him. I think she spoiled him, that he wasn’t used to.She helped him find a job with a cabinet company. All of these talents he learned shows in our home. We have furniture, shelves and cabinets. Pop taught him how to garden. It was because of him we were the only ones on our block to have grass. Of course, eventually, they did all get their grass on, but I knew Cody had done ours because he was taught to always work. He did that for sure. He did the brick work and the fence. He kept saying, I’ve never done this before, i know it’s because of Sis. Clark, he wasn’t afraid to try and do it.She helped Cody sign up for architect school in California. He graduated from there. I was impressed he got his degree. After 10 years, we decided to have a house made and we got the floor plan. I had told Cody, “I wish the rooms were different and like this. I don’t like how small this family room is and I don’t want a formal dining room. I want us to be together”. It was hard to know and frustrating. What can we do to make those changes. Then Cody said, I can change it? I couldn’t believe it. I said you can? When we went back to the house builder, He said, it easier to erase it than to build it an then re-do it. Once I found out, I started to tell Cody, “This is how I want it and like this and this room larger.” We took back our new plan to the contract company and he said, since you don’t have a license, you need to fine one and have him sign for approval. Cody found one of his co-workers and our house was started. They were amazed at the floor plan. The walls are the same, no one else has our floor plan. I thought, I’ve seen a likeness after we did that.Cody called Sis. Clark “mom”. I know she loved him so much. He really learned so much from his new family. He honored his priesthood because of how he was taught at home. He learned to love his family and how important it is to provide for them. All of that was his mom and dad Clark. They played a big part in his life. Thanks to them, he did honor his priesthood and loved his family greatly. Thank you for asking me to do this. I wish he could of done it himself. 2
1. Clark, Dorothy Smith. Dorothy Smith Clark Archive.Life History Notes. 26 October 1971. Privately held by Cathy Gilmore. Salt Lake City, UT.
2. Black, Vaida. Interview. 22 July 2014.
3. Photos are cropped images from the Dorothy Smith Clark Book of Remembrance. Dorothy Smith Clark Archive. Privately held by David S. Clark. Sandy, UT.