At the Redmond headquarters of Áegis Living, the multi-million-dollar company Clark founded in 1997, he does his walking on a reflexology path that he created for his staff. The path is just one manifestation of how deeply he cares about the people who surround him, from his employees and the residents of his senior living facilities to impoverished strangers in distant parts of the globe.
A longtime supporter of natural medicine in general and Bastyr University in particular, Clark recently donated $100,000 to establish a healthy aging research program at the school.
"Dwayne stepped up and asked how he could jumpstart a healthy aging program here," says Dr. Timothy C. Callahan, Bastyr's senior vice president and provost, noting that University officials have been engaged in an ongoing conversation about gerontology with Clark and other Áegis Living executives.
The Dwayne J. Clark Center for Healthy Aging – named to recognize Clark for his support of and commitment to Bastyr – will begin as a preventionminded "constellation of activities," as opposed to a building, Dr. Callahan says. Under his leadership, Bastyr has worked to secure grant funding through the National Institutes of Health that "will coalesce around a number of themes, one of which is gerontology and healthy aging."
Dr. Callahan also hopes to secure funding for research projects and clinical work, including advanced direct care for seniors. Both he and Clark would like the center to involve Bastyr students with elderly patients.
East-Meets-West Fusion of Ideas Enhances Aging Process
"I'd like the center to focus on the numerous forms that healthy aging can take," Clark says, and to "use a balanced approach that is proactive instead of reactive."
Clark employs this same philosophy at Áegis Living in numerous ways, going "beyond the boundaries of traditional medicine" to incorporate acupuncture, massage, exercise, nutrition, reflexology, stress management, companionship and laughter. For instance, Clark has developed a program at Áegis called Living4Life that is affiliated with both Bastyr and the University of Washington.
Living4Life applies the latest scientific, social and health breakthroughs in designing individualized wellness plans for each resident. The goal is to "elevate the mind, body and spirit through nutrition, exercise and community engagement."
Áegis' newest property, Bear Creek Lodge, due to open in Redmond in 2010, will include on-site holistic health centers offering naturopathic care. Multi-generational programming will encourage residents and youth to build relationships. Community and social activities will provide regular opportunities for heart-healthy, stressreducing shared laughter. Áegis salons offer hair styling, manicures, pedicures and skin care, along with saunas, warm water therapy pools and consultations on sex and romance, areas often overlooked in senior populations.
Bringing Natural Medicine into the Mainstream
"Aging well means so much more than not smoking and watching your cholesterol," Clark says. As opposed to the conventional practice of "going to the doctor when we're dying, Bastyr focuses on living and preventive measures to help us age in a healthier way."
A self-described "huge supporter" of Bastyr, Clark is married to Terese, a nurse who has studied alternative medicine extensively. The couple visited 500 spa facilities around the world before opening one of their own, Spa Agio, in Redmond. Clark recalls a particularly memorable massage he received while traveling in Africa. The massage was administered with "a knotted stick while the masseur told folklore stories," he remembers. "The rhythm of the story made you feel safe, like a child again. It took all the pressure off and created a real emotional connection."
One of his goals is to help natural medicine become more mainstream and, once again, Clark puts his money where his mouth is. He has offered to provide housing for students of both Bastyr University and the University of Washington Medical School at the newest Áegis Living site in Redmond to facilitate an East-meets-West fusion of ideas. The idyllic setting will include organic gardens, a salt water pool, a reflexology path and more.
"Our partnership with Áegis at the Bear Creek facility is yet another example of Dwayne's corporate ethos and his incredible generosity," Dr. Callahan says, observing that "the multi-acre setting is amazing."
From Potato Soup to Princess Di
Life for Dwayne Clark hasn't always been quite so idyllic. As a teenager, he was poor and his single mother worked as a cook to support the two of them. At one point, she was struggling to feed her son and had no choice but to steal a dozen potatoes from her employer. For an entire week, mother and son lived on the potato soup she made. The soup made an indelible impression on young Dwayne, and he vowed to never forget where he came from and what they'd had to do to survive.
Clark was particularly close to his maternal grandmother and when she developed Alzheimer's disease, he often visited her at what he describes as "a sad old folks' home." Seeing her in this setting inspired his interest in senior living alternatives. Clark's mother, now 85, came to suffer from Alzheimer's
as well and now resides in an Áegis community. Clark describes her as a "loving and courageous woman who fought for her country in World War II, tracked elephants in India, herded sheep on an Idaho ranch" and raised four successful children.
He is also quick to credit his mother for her role in shaping his own unfathomable success. "The greatest gifts she gave me were confidence and the power of positive thinking," he recalls fondly. "Because we were Irish Catholics, she always told us that we were just like the Kennedys. I couldn't help thinking 'so where's our yacht and our big house in New England?!'"
His company now boasts annual revenues of $175 million and manages real estate assets over $2 billion.
His remarkable journey has taken him to the summer palace of Travancore Maharajas and to dinner with Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Deeply appreciative of the "spectacular things" he's had the opportunity to see and do, Clark remains surprisingly down to earth and reflective. He candidly discusses "wrestling with the demons" that success at this level can bring, yet he continues to find ways to keep his perspective, often in unexpected places.
"My wife and I were in a shanty town in India," he recalls, "and we met a family of four who lived in a structure that was no larger than six by eight feet. Yet they invited us in and offered us tea and food and laughter."
Clark is visibly moved by such experiences and quietly alludes to his satisfaction at being able to help change the lives of this family and others like them, without elaborating on the details of his generosity.
The awards and accolades he has accumulated for both his business acumen and his philanthropy are legion. Most recently, Clark received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Seattle Senior Services for his groundbreaking work in "highlighting new attitudes about seniors and senior care."
A far cry from warehousing the elderly in "sad old folks' homes," Áegis Living provides seniors with luxurious living spaces and resort-style amenities. Áegis communities also include such innovative features as stress-free "neighborhoods" to assist residents who are struggling with dementia. Clark recently developed an Áegis community exclusively for those of Asian descent and – now on the drawing board – is one for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered residents.
There is little question that Dwayne Clark is devoted to transforming the way we age. He remains tireless in this quest, committed to treating all people with enormous dignity and respect, to "making life better" wherever he goes. Whether he's behind the wheel of a race car, helping a poor family in the shanty towns of India, or at the helm of the life-altering organization he has created, Clark remains a formidable driving force behind what he so aptly calls "a work of heart."