Clarion Native Shares How Vivid Memories, Love of Reading Created Path to Publication
Pam Selker Rak grew up on South Second Avenue in Clarion, right across from the Immaculate Conception Cemetery. Her roots in the community run deep, as her great-grandfather, J.W. Selker, immigrated from Germany, settled in Clarion back in the 1800s, and became a business leader in the local community.
Her maternal grandparents, Leo and Anna Phillips, also immigrated to Clarion from Sicily, Italy. They were also business owners in Clarion.
Rak told exploreClarion.com that she is very proud to be from Clarion and happy to have grown up in the area.
“I had a magical childhood. It wasn’t anything fancy. It was just filled with simple pleasures, and those are the stories I want to share with other children and their favorite adults, too.”
According to Rak, during her early, formative years, she developed a deep and abiding love of reading.
“I have vivid memories of coming home from first grade and telling my mom I could read,” Rak said.
“She was so excited that she stopped everything she was doing and sat down on the couch with me as I read her a book I had brought home from school. From that point on, I was a regular visitor to the Children’s Library at the Clarion Free Library.”
Rak said she spent hours in the Children’s Library, just exploring and checking out the many options for books to take home with her.
“It’s definitely how my love of writing and poetry began. I was a huge fan of Dr. Seuss books.”
Her parents also subscribed to the Highlights magazine and allowed her to join school book clubs where she was allowed to order books to keep.
“That was a game-changer for me. My love of reading and writing just kept flourishing from there.”
Rak went on to graduate from Clarion-Limestone High School before attending Clarion University, where she studied communication. She received her bachelor’s degree from Clarion in 1986 and her initial job search took her to the Pittsburgh area.
She began her professional career working as a Technical Writer for ANSYS, Inc. for a decade, working her way all the way up to Director of Marketing. From there, she moved on to a Technical Writer and Marketing Manager position with IBM/Transarc Labs and then worked for FORE Systems, Inc. for a time before deciding to launch her own marketing firm, CommuniTech, LLC, in the mid-1990s. She currently remains the president of the company.
During her time working in the field of technical writing and marketing, she also continued her creative writing.
“I wrote a bunch of poetry and kept it to myself for the longest time.”
Then, during the more recent COVID-19 lockdowns, her creative writing picked up even more, as she had more spare time on her hands. She also began sharing her poetry with her husband and her mother, who both encouraged her to continue writing.
“My mom thought they would make great children’s books, so I started looking into that process.”
She was then able to team with Jeanine Murch, a professional illustrator who used to work for Penguin Publishing in New York City.
“She had a great amount of insight and did a fantastic job of bringing my poetry to life!”
Rak noted that she also has to credit Leadership Pittsburgh, a program that mentors business leaders on how to become more civic- and community-minded, that she completed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That program changed my life in so many ways.”
The insight she gained from the program then combined with her love of her hometown to give her an idea.
“I decided that I wanted to donate my proceeds to a nonprofit supporting the Clarion community. So, my mission as an author and poet is one of philanthropy and community-mindedness. Our communities need us, so this is very important to me.”
All of Rak’s story poems are based on her own real experience with her parents, siblings, and friends from her neighborhood in Clarion.
“I think those simple bonds we formed at a young age are often lost as time passes, and I wanted to reemphasize them and bring them back to life for others to share.”
She has managed to stay in touch with most of the kids from her childhood neighborhood, including her best friend, Mary Osterried Cyphert.
“All of us neighborhood kids used to play ball, went sled-riding, built snow forts, rode bikes together, laughed, cried, and learned so many life lessons together.”
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, she came back to Clarion at one point and took a walk in the cemetery, where she began to notice graves from people and friends from her old neighborhood.
“It made me very nostalgic, and I wanted to do something to preserve those times, not only in my own mind, but in others’ minds, too. It was a special time growing up with really special people and friends and I think that’s an important story for us all to cling to, especially during challenging times.”
Along with wanting to preserve and share those memories, she said that love is at the center of most of her writing.
“At the very heart of it all is love – love for my parents, my brothers and sister, my friends and neighbors, and the love of the memories and lessons that I think can still be learned by others, too, especially children.”
Her first book, Sassafras Tea, is the story of how her father first introduced her to the art of brewing sassafras tea from the cut bark. The book centers around the importance of family and the father/daughter bond.
“As a child, I was fascinated that my dad could turn a tree into tea! It’s these kinds of experiences that came into sharp focus for me. In our era of texting, gaming, and social media, it’s important for children to know that the simplest pleasures are often the best ones.”
A special public book launch and signing party for Sassafras Tea is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, June 19, at Memorial Park Gazebo in Clarion, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Michelle’s Café will be on-hand to serve sassafras tea and assorted pastries. Book readings will be conducted by Clarion resident, Kiera Vinson, a senior at Lycoming College, studying Musical Theater Arts, and C-93 FM will broadcast live from the event.
Sassafras Tea can be purchased at the event, and Rak will be on-hand to sign copies.
Rak’s second book, titled Christmas Treedition, is scheduled to launch in conjunction with the Autumn Leaf Festival in October.
Christmas Treedition focuses on Rak’s childhood tradition of going with her father to the Christmas Tree Farm to pick out the perfect tree.
According to Rak, it’s a fun story about the importance of family traditions, and all of the proceeds from it will be going to the Clarion/Jefferson Head Start Program.
“I’ll have some exciting announcements coming up regarding that partnership,” Rak noted.
She has also applied for a booth at the Autumn Leaf Festival Craft Show and is working with The Fulmer House on some joint events and promotions. She is hoping to work with the Clarion Free Library on some events, as well.
Rak noted that her first two books are really just the beginning of her creative writing ventures.
“I have written enough poetry to publish two children’s books per year for about five years so far.”
Currently, she is planning to release another two books in 2022.
The first one, titled Pam-Anne Restaurant, she plans to launch in conjunction with Mother’s Day, and the second one, titled The Battle of Snowball, is planned for release in the fall.
“Eventually, there will be books for every season: winter, spring, summer, and fall.”
Rak said one of the reasons she is very excited to partner with the Clarion/Jefferson Head Start Program is because of the major influence teachers had on her own life.
“Two of my high school teachers really stand out in my mind as inspiring me to become a writer: Mr. John Zahoran and Mrs. Lois Morgan, both were my teachers at Clarion-Limestone. Both of them recognized my talent and really worked with me and challenged me to stretch beyond what I thought were my capabilities to expand my skills.”
The role teachers can play in a child’s life and development shouldn’t be overlooked, Rak explained.
“It just takes one spark for a child to start recognizing their path, and teachers are instrumental in helping us recognize that spark.”
Her hope is that her writing can also reach children and make a difference in their lives.
“I also wish to share that spark with the children at Head Start and get them excited about reading and exploring their imagination. Words can open up whole new worlds!
“I’m looking forward to helping them understand the joy of reading and the value of education in their own lives.”
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