By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

The unexpected death this week of Fran Clark, the executive director of the North Coast Small Business Resource Center in Crescent City, is imperiling the local office she directed, according to her colleagues.

Clark, 56, died suddenly Monday morning after having earlier complained of suffering from chest pains. Clark directed a full-time small business development center (SBDC) office open in Del Norte County, according to contractor Mike McKenzie-Bahr.

In all likelihood, the office will close and the area will be served by Eureka once every two weeks or so, McKenzie-Bahr said. The state cut funding for the office for at least three years in a row and she kept the office open by securing grants.

Administrative assistant Alicia Wunder concurred. A counselor from Eureka, Barbara Maderas, will probably take her place for the short term. My guess is the office wont stay open.

A final decision on replacing Clark will be made by the Board of Directors next Tuesday, according to board chair, Cindy Thomas.

Thomas, who resides in Humboldt County, said speculation about the office closure was unexpected.

Im a little surprised that people up there feel that way, Thomas said. Theres no conscious movement in that direction. Were still in shock about losing Fran, with her wealth of knowledge, and if anything wed like to keep the program running in respect to her ... I can say Del Norte will still have a presence because whoever else we put in will be from up there.

The North Coast center, which oversees the SBDC in Del Norte County, functions as a conduit for local businesses to the California Trade and Commerce Department and is responsible for securing grants and technology improvements in the county.

Board member Susan Elliott agreed everyone would like to see the office remain open, but she added the commerce agency may have a final say.

Theyve been notified of Frans passing. So until we hear from them, as to what they wish for us to do, we wont know, said Elliott. I know that most SBDC offices are operated through college campuses. We are one of the few remaining in the state that isnt.

Thomas, who said she spoke with the commerce agency yesterday, said she didnt believe the department was looking for an excuse to make any changes.

McKenzie-Bahr said in any case the county business environment will not be the same.

(Clark) worked very hard to help local businesses and agencies by securing grants for the community. Theres not another champion like her in our community. Del Norte is going to lose all that, McKenzie-Bahr said.

She was very dedicated to the community and wasnt just out for a paycheck or for political gain, said Wunder. I think thats why she clashed so many times with political heads ... she was just a wonderful, wonderful person to work with.