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‘A DAY I’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER’

With family in attendance, FD’s Clement honored as National I-Club volunteer of the year

Photo by Lily Smith, www.hawkeyesports.com Larry Clement of Fort Dodge and his grandson, 11-year-old Jake Humpal, wave to the crowd on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City during the Hawkeyes’ game against Purdue. Clement was honored as the University of Iowa’s National I-Club volunteer of the year.

IOWA CITY — When the University of Iowa’s I-Club organization named Larry Clement its 2019 national volunteer of the year, the long-time Fort Dodge businessman responded by making one special request.

“I wanted to make sure my grandkids would be allowed on the field to share the moment with me,” Clement said proudly. “(I-Club organizers) gave it the OK, and I’m so glad they did. It was a day I’ll always remember, and I know my grandson, Jake, will as well.”

The 74-year-old Clement was recognized during the first quarter of Iowa’s Homecoming game against Purdue on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. And just as he’d hoped, his 11-year-old grandson was right by his side.

“That’s what made it special: being there with Jake, my daughter, Kristi (Humpal), and my son-in-law, Jeremy,” Clement said. “It was just fantastic. We missed having my wife, Kathy, and granddaughter, Katie, with us; Katie had a dance competition back in Sioux Falls, so Kathy stayed back there with her. But having my family with me just meant the world.

“I’ve never been big on awards, rewards or recognition. So while I greatly appreciate this, I got a lot more out of the look on Jake’s face and seeing him up on the big scoreboard in front of 70,000 people.”

Clement, who moved to Fort Dodge in November of 1971, has been an ardent supporter of many athletic programs both local- and state-wide for as long as he can remember. The Newton native and 1967 University of Northern Iowa graduate officially joined the I-Club in 1973, when his dealership began to provide then-Iowa athletic director Bump Elliott with a mode of transportation.

“We had a lot of friends and customers in Fort Dodge who were I-Club members when we came here,” said Clement, who played football while at UNI. “To me, getting as involved as you can in community activities and making the right connections with the right people were always staples in business. So it only made sense to support the University of Iowa through the I-Club organization (according to its website, the I-Club generates over $17 million annually today to help its 650 student-athletes through travel, housing, training facilities, medical treatment, nutrition, uniforms and other expenses).

“The University of Iowa called our dealership and asked if we’d be interested in furnishing Bump’s car. I’d known Bump for a while, and he was a class act all the way. So I said, ‘of course you have a deal.’ Iowa has always run a very good, clean athletic department; you’ve never had to worry about them being involved in cheating or other scandals. When they recruit, they do it the right way, which was important to us.”

Clement Auto and Truck remained active with the UI athletic director’s office through Elliott’s retirement and Bob Bowlsby’s tenure. The athletic department often used Clement’s airplanes for recruiting trips and other travel necessities as well.

“When Bump retired in 1990, they had a party for him at Finkbine Golf Course (in Iowa City),” Clement said. “The donors raised money to buy him a retirement gift: a new Buick Park Avenue that we sold to them. And when Bob took over, that relationship continued. I was actually student teaching and helping coach the football team at Waterloo West (High School) when Bob was a student-athlete there, so we went way back, too.”

Clement’s loyalty wasn’t limited to Hawkeye nation, though. The Fort Dodge-based dealership also provided transportation to leaders at Iowa State University and Clement’s alma mater, Northern Iowa, for 20 years in the 1980s and 90s.

“I remember checking the schedule one Friday in the ’90s when we were at Dodger Stadium watching (FDSH) play, and I saw Iowa State had an 11 (a.m.) game, Iowa was at 2:30, and UNI played at like 6,” Clement said. “And we made it to all three. I remember (the Cyclones and Hawkeyes) both lost, and saying on the plane heading for Cedar Falls, ‘I hope we don’t go 0-for-3.’ Fortunately, (the Panthers) won. That was a fun day.

“We were as active as possible with as many different schools and organizations as possible. The local schools, Iowa, Iowa State, UNI — you name it. When the community supports you, you support the community. If they’re good to you, you return the favor as much as you can. And we made a lot of both business and personal connections through our schools.”

Clement still runs Clement Aviation Inc., which operates in both Fort Dodge and Sioux Falls. He laughed, “I doubt I’ll ever fully retire.”

Larry and Kathy have a home in Sioux Falls, where his daughter’s family resides.

In addition to his professional life, Clement was an avid race car driver and owner through the years. He had an ARCA racing team from 1993-2008, finishing as the circuit’s second-winningest owner all-time with 75 career victories — the vast majority with legendary driver Frank Kimmel.

Clement was also a vital cog in the construction and development of the Iowa Speedway in his hometown of Newton.

Despite being inducted into numerous Hall of Fames for his accomplishments as both a competitor and a businessman, Clement said Saturday “ranked right up at the top” on a list of personal experiences.

“We were on the field near the Iowa bench in the northwest corner (of Kinnick Stadium) at around the 15-yard line,” Clement said. “Jake and I were just a few feet away from the Hawkeye huddle. We were able to watch a few plays when we were waiting (for Clement to be honored). That’s the kind of stuff you just don’t get to do very often, if ever.

“We’ve enjoyed so many events with Kristi’s family; Jake and Katie are so special to us. Jake will always be able to look back and smile when he thinks about (Saturday), and knowing that made it all worth it for me. I’m just thankful and proud that a terrific organization like the I-Club took the time to include us in (the Homecoming festivities).”