Couple keeps hoping as mail piles up
By Paul Wilborn, Times Staff Writer (Nov. 2, 1997)
One Tuesday last month, Thomas and Mabel Clark drove their 1988
camper van to Dimmitt Cadillac on U.S. 19 to do some shopping.
Clark, a retired Baptist minister, found the car he wanted in
the showroom. A 1998 Deville, white with a blue top. It was a
special showroom model, which was reflected in the $51,000 sticker
Clark, 91, and his wife, 88, took a test drive. They went into
the salesman's glass office and negotiated the price.
It will take a few days for the money to come through, Clark told
Neil Gerbe, the 34-year-old salesman.
He pulled out the letter from United States Purchasing Exchange,
a catalog and sweepstakes company in North Hollywood, Calif. Clark
would have no trouble paying for the car with his $3,628,000 prize.
Gerbe shook his head. The polite, straight-backed couple, in their
formal clothes, reminded him of his grandparents. He said he was
afraid they hadn't actually won any money.
That's the same thing our children told us, Clark said.
But the letters and envelopes that pour into their Clearwater
apartment every day tell them something else. They are about to
In the increasingly competitive world of sweepstakes come-ons,
the Clarks are everyone's target market. They believe the promises
and back it up with cash.
The Clarks aren't alone. Elder law attorneys and experts on aging
say the elderly are particular targets of sweepstakes companies.
At the dealership, Clark looked back at the letter.
He was one of the company's best customers. Over the past few
years, he and his wife had spent thousands of dollars on gifts
from the catalog. They had other letters from USPE assuring them
that cars, big-screen televisions and cash awards were on the
way, rewards for their loyalty.
If those prizes didn't come through, there were others. The Clarks
had letters from American Family Publishers, Publisher's Clearing
House and a host of other sweepstakes and prize companies, promising
that big money was headed their way.
Clark answered all the letters. He ordered magazines and products
and sent special fees for processing his entries quickly. He wrote
checks or used his credit card. The $6,000 credit limit on one
card was spent.
They told the car salesman he should come to their house and see
all the products. Orange peelers. Brass-plated hangers. A stove-top
cooker. A wooden sewing organizer. Pillows. Robes. Ceramic teapots.
Videotapes. They are still in the shipping boxes, in a back bedroom
of their small apartment.
The stack is 4 feet high.
Back home in Paterson, N.J., where the Clarks live during the
summer, there are more boxes. They took a truckload home with
them last summer.
The magazines are in Paterson, too. Stacked neatly in a pile that
comes to Clark's waist and covers most of the floor of one room.
In the glass office at the dealership, the Clarks stood carefully.
They said goodbye to the young salesman.
They'd be back when the money arrived.
Thomas Clark's mailman said he has never known anyone who gets
as much mail as Clark does. Every day, just after noon, Clark
returns to his third-floor apartment in On Top of the World, a
retirement community. He carries a stack of mail about a foot
The apartment is spotless. Candlesticks and ceramic figures cover
the tables and line the windowsills. Family photos fill the kitchen
wall. There's a picture of Clark's graduating class at Moody Bible
Institute in 1932. And a pennant from Wheaton College, where Mabel
Thomas preached all his life in Baptist churches. Mabel, whom
he married 62 years ago in Michigan, taught Latin. They raised
six children and retired to Florida in 1972.
Until about a year ago, when he decided to take it easier, Clark
was the chaplain at On Top of the World. He wrote a regular column
for the community newsletter and delivered all the official prayers.
Both Thomas and Mabel are healthy, mentally sharp and in love.
"We just enjoy each other so much," Mabel says.
Friday, when Thomas picked his wife up from her hairdresser appointment,
they walked under matching plaid umbrellas.
At home, he wears a light blue striped suit that's a little large
for his tall, thin frame. Below the jacket is a plaid sweater
vest, a blue tie adorned with a jeweled pin. Mabel wears a high-necked
blue suit, with a long skirt. There's a Christmas tree pin at
The Clarks are from a generation that considered it important
to answer your mail. So these days Thomas Clark spends hours working
his way through the daily stacks. They cover the kitchen table.
And a couch in back. He also has put some of the mail in boxes
with his purchases.
"I spend a lot of my day answering mail," Clark says.
The couple was burned by a lottery company a few years ago. They
sent $900 twice, but none of the promised money ever arrived.
He says they are more careful now.
But the magazines and the boxes of products keep arriving. So
do the promises of riches: Clark is pledged a $1,000,000 Super
Prize from a company in Topeka, Kan. Sweepstakes Administrator's
Awards Division has guaranteed him $11,000 -- send $10 for the
$3,800 bonus pack and $3 for rush processing. Vault Charter promises
him $12,000 and asks for an $8.99 assessment and a $2 rush processing
fee. Money Express tells Clark he can claim his $10,000 prize.
They ask for $17 for a bonus pack and $3 for processing. One company
promises a car and asks: "Is there a Buick dealership within 50
miles of your residence?"
Thomas Clark feels confident that the money will be arriving soon.
He is eager to pick up his car.
But Mabel is starting to wonder.
"The money keeps going out. When you go to the bank, you wonder,
where does it go?"
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