Bob Clark is stepping away from his role as CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine next year, ending what he called “a labor of love and the honor of a lifetime.”

Clark, who has led the youth-development organization for 29 years, said he’s announcing his departure next April well in advance to give directors time to find a new CEO.

But the man referred to as the face of the organization will be hard to replace.

“Bob always has his hand in everything, whether it was repairing the basketball court in South Portland or a major renovation of the Auburn-Lewiston club, Bob was right in the middle of it,” said Tom Manning, a board member who was at the Portland club all the time when he was growing up on Munjoy Hill. “It’s almost hard to think of the club without Bob – he’s meant so much to the place.”

The organization expanded since Clark was hired in early 1990, adding an Auburn club and branches in Riverton and Sagamore Village in Portland to the main club in Portland and another in South Portland. Today, the club serves more than  2,900 children, up from 2,700 five years ago, and has a $2.3 million annual budget. Clark was paid more than $94,000 in 2017, according to the nonprofit clubs’ tax filing.

Clark, 67,  said he’s most proud of keeping the clubs focused on the children, with an emphasis on academics, healthy lifestyles and community involvement. He noted, in particular, summer educational projects such as the “Brain Gain” program that keeps children engaged in reading during the summer break.

“Bob is a tremendous advocate for kids in general,” said Gary Bergeron, chairman of the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine. “Bob is, literally, the face of the organization.”

Clark grew up in upstate New York and graduated from New York University in New York City, then moved to Rhode Island, where he worked initially with an anti-poverty agency in Cranston. He then became an education director at a Boys & Girls Club in Providence and eventually was named assistant director of the clubs in Rhode Island. When the position as head of the clubs in southern Maine opened up, he applied.

Clark remembers arriving for an interview and walking into the large clubhouse on Cumberland Avenue – designed with help from John Calvin Stevens and funded, in large part, by the Hannaford family.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is a classic Boys & Girls club,’ ” he said.

Clark said he has tried to maintain a welcoming atmosphere for children during his tenure.

“There’s still that sense of belonging and (providing) a smiling face to meet and greet the kids and recognize what their needs are,” he said.

Clark said a recent high point was a visit by then-gubernatorial candidate Janet Mills to the Portland club last year. While there, she visited a music class and heard Shy Paca, whose family recently had immigrated to Maine from Namibia, singing Alicia Keys’ song “Girl on Fire.”

In January, Paca and a classmate, Natalia Mbadu  – both wearing Boys & Girls clubs jackets – performed the song at Mills’ inauguration.

“Those are the moments that are really nice re-chargers in terms of what we as a team do here,” Clark said.

Manning said, for him, the club was primarily a place to swim and play basketball. But with help from Clark, it means more to children today.

“It’s not just a club to play ball like it was when I was going,” Manning said. “They do a lot for kids. It’s more than a home-away-from-home and a lot of that is because of Bob.”

For instance, Manning said, he was impressed to learn that the club brings in translators to help immigrant children with their schoolwork.

“They’re taking that extra step, which is really impressive,” Manning said.

Clark said furnishing programs to help immigrant children is a long-running mission of Boys & Girls clubs.

“We’re all embracing serving all these kids,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see the terrific diversity.”

He said a fair number of children who join live in the nearby city shelter for families, which includes a number of immigrant families.

“They relish it,” he said of the immigrant members. “Many of them come back to say, ‘This is where I learned to be an American.’ ”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]