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SD man reunites with father after 37 years

ABERDEEN -- At 41, Kennith Clark is finally getting to know his father.

After believing for most of his life that his dad was dead, Clark said he met his biological father for the first time in 37 years last month in Madison.

When Clark was very young, his parents split, though he said he lived with his mother and Jack Cleveley until he was 3 or so. Ultimately, his mother remarried, resulting in both a name and address change that muddled Cleveley's efforts to find his son and Clark's efforts to find his father's grave.

Mom and the kids moved from New York to Texas, where Clark grew up. He said his mother ultimately told him that his father had died in a traffic accident.

Sadly, it was a fatal traffic accident that reunited the men. Clark met Cleveley at his sister's funeral in July after she had been killed in a single-vehicle accident on July 4.

A few years ago, Clark got an email from his sister telling him Cleveley was alive and looking for him, but Clark had a hard time believing it.

"I just thought it was a big joke at first," he said.

More recently, though, Clark said he came to learn from family members that his dad was alive. Before his sister's funeral, Clark said, his brother called him and told him that Cleveley would be at the services. So Clark made the trip to Madison and met his father.

"And I about passed out," Clark said. "Shocked. Didn't know what to think."

Cleveley is semiretired and living in Clayton, N.C. Now, Clark said, the two men talk on the phone twice a week or so.

Clark said Cleveley told him that his mother took the kids and fled while he was at work. For part of his career, Cleveley was a corrections officer, Clark said. That forces him to crack a smile; Clark said he has been to prison three times on forgery and possession of stolen property charges.

He said his father had a pretty good idea when they met that Clark had been to prison based on his tattoos. And, Clark said, Cleveley told him that had he raised Clark, he would have wanted his son to work for the Highway Patrol.

Prison notwithstanding, Clark has lived in Aberdeen since the late 1980s. He works for South Dakota Department of Labor's Day Labor Office doing everything from roofing to yard work to snow removal. He enjoys the variety of jobs and the people he meets.

Clark said his father has invited him to North Carolina to visit or even live. He's contemplating both options, though isn't rushing into anything. But, he said, he would like to spend some time with Cleveley doing something they both enjoy.

"Fishing. He likes to fish," Clark said. "He hates hunting; I hate hunting."

Like father, like son.