Kelly: Twice a crime survivor, Benson auto-business owner retiring amid cancer fight -
Published Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:57 am
Kelly: Twice a crime survivor, Benson auto-business owner retiring amid cancer fight

Few are happier about the resurgence of the Benson business and entertainment district than a true Benson survivor — Jim Clark.

Twice a victim of violent crime, including once when he was robbed, beaten and stuffed into a car trunk, Jim is fighting for his life again. This time it's an insidious intruder, stage 4 liver cancer.

And so he is reluctantly retiring Friday from his indoor auto storage and sales business at 6120 Military Ave.

“I love this business,” said Jim, 71. “A lot of people couldn't believe I came back after the last robbery. I really don't want to leave, but I just have to.”

Clearing out his building will lead to more nightly parking in a bustling area that needs it.

John Larkin, who owns the nearby Beercade and Jake's Cigars and Spirits, will turn the 80 or so available spots into the cleverly named Larkin's Parkin'.

“It's a business venture for me, but it also fills a public need,” said John, 32. “All the business owners have been highly supportive. We even hope to have valet parking.”

He called Jim a fixture in what has become a destination neighborhood, and said he, too, “has been supportive of everything here.”

Jim repaid the compliment: “John is a go-getter and a super-nice guy. He has worked well with us.”

Jim grew up in Benson, son of radio and TV newscaster Ray Clark. In 1945, aboard a B-29 named the City of Omaha, built at the Martin Bomber Plant near Bellevue, he broadcast a bit of history live on WOW radio during a bombing run over Japan.

“Ahead of us in the darkness — for it's about 2:30 over Japan — we can see two targets already on fire,” Ray Clark reported. “One of them is the one toward which we are heading at this very moment. That's the town of Ogaki.”

A week later, from another plane that was built at the Martin plant, an atomic bomb was dropped on another city — Hiroshima.

Jim, a 1960 Benson High grad, didn't follow his dad into broadcasting, but still speaks with a voice as clear and strong as a news anchor's. He has spent his working life around cars.

When he was a kid, he and friends rode their bikes from his home at 49th and Ohio Streets to the Benson business district to look at new cars. As an adult, Jim worked at dealerships.

The building that has housed his business the past two decades was the home of Hulac Chevrolet from the mid-1930s to the late '60s.

Jim said he has seen the Benson area's ups and downs, and is pleased with its rise the past few years, with more restaurants, shops and music venues.

Though all the activity and attention has made the area safer, it went through a difficult period. In 2000, a man bound Jim with duct tape and robbed him weeks before committing two murders that landed him on death row.

In July 2007, three men beat Jim and dumped him into a car trunk at his business. When he didn't answer phone calls from his wife, Carmen, she sent a friend over who saw his dentures on the floor. A trail of blood led police to the car trunk, where he had lain unconscious for five hours.

The ringleader of the attack received a life sentence. A judge praised Jim as “a man of quiet will and courage.”

He had barely survived and needed surgeries on his neck, back, leg and heart. He returned to work six months after the attack and has used a walker ever since.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

Jim said he doesn't think often about his attackers, nor is he bitter. What happened to him, he said, “could have happened to anyone.”

But it shouldn't happen to anyone.

For Jim's assailants, crime surely didn't pay. That was also true in two other attempted robberies in Benson, where young men paid with their lives. In 2005, one was shot and killed by a pawnshop owner; in 2010, another was shot and killed by a customer in line at a drugstore.

At his Autocorp business recently, Jim Clark sat in his office in front of an upfront piano that he occasionally plays. He is giving it away to a mother with two young daughters. (His late mother, Eleanor, long ago played violin with the Omaha Symphony.)

As recently as July, Jim still had 30 older, luxury-style cars. But now there were 10, including a '77 Eldorado, a '79 Oldsmobile Mark V, a Lincoln Town Car and an '89 Cadillac Allante convertible. He will send them to auto auctions.

After enduring chemotherapy the past 18 months, Jim is hoping for good news this fall from a CT scan. But he's not feeling sorry for himself.

“A lot of people have it a lot worse than me,” he said. “I've found out that I have a lot more friends than I ever realized.”

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

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