Clarence L. Jordan
September 8, 2018
On Saturday, Clarence Jordan finished the race and left this earth, with a life spent sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, loving others, and working tirelessly on behalf of people in need. Clarence’s early years foreshadowed the vocation he would choose in his desire to serve God. He grew up during the Depression as the youngest of five children, with an alcoholic father who frequently flew into rages. By the time Clarence was 11 years old, both parents had succumbed to Tuberculosis and he drifted from place to place trying to find a stable life. After a difficult time living with his brother in San Diego, Clarence returned to his hometown of Fall River, MA, where his sister and grandmother still lived. With the help of Travelers Aid and the meal provided by a kind old man who noticed he was traveling alone, Clarence took the train from California to Massachusetts, where he lived with his grandmother until a financial disagreement forced him out of the house. During his final year of high school, Clarence was again without a home. Never one to accept defeat, Clarence rented a room at the local YMCA and prepared his meals on a small hot plate. Despite the rift with his grandmother, it proved to be one of her house rules that most influenced Clarence’s life. While not a churchgoer, herself, she set this rule for Clarence: if you’re going to live here, you have to go to church every week. He respected her wishes and in the process found a new way of life. It was this church community that became his family. They offered comfort, emotional stability and a true sense of belonging to the family of God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While serving as president of the youth group during his senior year, Clarence’s strong relationship capabilities came to light. After committing his life to God, Clarence studied at Barrington College to prepare for missionary work in China. However those plans ended with the Communist takeover of China in 1946 and instead he joined Goodwill Industries of Greater Bridgeport, CT, to serve as Associate Director for three years. During that period, he was also Associate Pastor of Calvary Evangelical Church. As his reputation spread in Christian circles, Clarence was invited to apply for the Director of Men’s Social Services position at the Rescue Mission in Syracuse. As a native New Englander, he was not inclined to consider the move, but wanted to keep an open mind in case God had other plans. After moving to Syracuse and serving in that position for just a year, Clarence was promoted to Executive Director in 1960, which began an unprecedented period of growth in both the innovation and scope of the Rescue Mission services. Under his leadership, the Rescue Mission grew to be one of the most comprehensive social service agencies in CNY and one of the largest gospel missions in the nation. It grew from 7 employees and a budget of $65,000 in 1960 to 333 employees and a budget of $10 million when he left in 2000. During his tenure, Clarence served on a variety of community boards and working groups, while also developing new Rescue Mission programs to help lift individuals and families out of homelessness, poverty, addiction and mental health difficulties. After experiencing the full measure of God’s love and provision in his life, Clarence was determined to help others find that same peace of mind. One of the first residents Clarence met at the Rescue Mission was a successful businessman with a solid family life. He and his wife were raising three year old twin boys who were the passion of their lives. One morning, while backing out of his driveway, he failed to see one of his twins playing behind his car. The guilt he felt after running over his son and killing him took him into a downward spiral of alcoholism that eventually led to the Rescue Mission. The man had lost everything that mattered in life, as had many of the people Clarence met throughout his years at the Rescue Mission. Just a few of the Rescue Mission services developed under Clarence’s leadership included: an expanded meal program open to the community as well as Mission residents, a holiday meal program, male and female sobering up units, alcohol outreach van, addiction recovery programs, homeless shelter, drop-in-center, a variety of residential treatment programs for men and women, donation warehouse, network of thrift stores, free clothing distribution center and attended donation centers, community centers for urban families and summer camp with a full-scale ropes course, a learning center for Rescue Mission clients and individuals in the community, an adult home for men and discipleship programs for men and women. After moving the Rescue Mission from East Washington St. to Gifford St. in 1976, Clarence was responsible for conducting six capital fund drives that increased its presence from one building to the five-building campus that exists today. In recognition of his dedicated service to the Rescue Mission and the community, Clarence received the following awards and honors: The Onondaga County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award, the Mayor’s Achievement Award, The Outstanding Volunteer Award from the Rotary Club of Syracuse, honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degrees from LeMoyne College and Houghton College, Toastmaster’s International Communication and Leadership Award, designation as a Rotary Club Paul Harris Fellow, Communicator of the Year Award from Syracuse Ad Club, Crystal Ball Award from the CNY Sales and Marketing Executives, and the Emerald City Award for community leadership from Consolidated Industries. His proudest moment came in 1985, when the Rescue Mission received the coveted Eleanor Roosevelt Community Services Award, NY State’s highest award for a voluntary agency. Clarence also received the “Others” Award from the Salvation Army. Clarence was always quick to point out that none of his accomplishments were achieved alone, and that his strongest skill may have been, “hiring good people who worked hard and made me look good.” For several years, he participated in a reading program for first and third graders at Blodgett Elementary School and as a Mercy Works Board Member, he raised more than $500,000 to build a new library for the school. In December of 2001, Clarence was honored to carry the Olympic Torch in Syracuse. In 2012 the CNY Community Foundation asked him to share his life story which was placed in the Library of Congress. After being appointed Director of Development for Mercy Works in 2003, Clarence raised $372,000 to purchase the former Meltzer’s Auto Parts store on South Salina Street in Syracuse, which soon housed a new, state of the art, skill-building program known as the Clarence L. Jordan Vision Center, 1221 S. Salina Street. Beginning in 2012, Clarence raised additional $900,000 to renovate the building with expanded services to urban youth and families. Over his lifetime, Clarence raised over $100 million for the poor in Syracuse.
Clarence is survived by his wife, the former Janet Corrente, their 4 children; Steve Jordan of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Kristin Jordan of Manhattan, with her husband, Matthew Shemwell, Heather Jordan and his grandchild of Solvay and Shannon Jordan of Camillus.
Calling hours will be held on Wednesday from 2-5pm at the Abundant Life Christian Center, 7000 All Nations Blvd., E. Syracuse, with a memorial service at 6pm at the church.
Donations may be made to the Vision Center, 1221 S. Salina St., Syracuse, NY 13202, www.vcsyracuse.com