MARK SCONCE: Poet And Prince Among Men
By Margaret Ann Porter
Last month, we explored the passion Lakeside resident Mark Sconce holds for the Russian literary genius Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin. Here, we look at the influences in Mark’s youth:
Mark’s mother was descended from Hungarian peasant stock, which he says accounts for the gypsy in his soul. He revels in the fact that his mother and Pushkin were born on the same day. “Neither could be bought,” he says.
“Pushkin was a man whose upbringing should have seen him on to a solidly prosperous life among nobility and the landed gentry. But instead he wrote profound stuff, and in every genre, loved with his entire heart, fought pistol duels, criticized royalty and all of the hypocrisies of his time, climbed and jumped and danced with abandon, and … well, he was a flamboyant gypsy, and so am I sometimes.”
On the other side, his grandfather (Scotch/Irish) was the Plywood King of Omaha, Nebraska, during WWII, which saw the family prosper handsomely. Everyone had high hopes for Mark, who by age 12 had proved himself to be driven and bright but unmanageable in your typical Nebraska public school setting. He claims it was all due to a substitute teacher in 5th grade with a personality problem. He was sent to St. James and Shattuck Military Academy in Minnesota where his grades went back up and his mind and body were engaged by rigorous training (hazing); he belonged to the time-honored Shattuck Crack Squad precision drill team.
“It was just another form of being in a gang,” he says. “Those of us still living stay in touch to this day.”
Gang or not, he was set and ready for higher education at West Point when his gypsy heart decided instead to attend Antioch College in Ohio, which offered an innovative work-study program that had been developed by a Humanist Quaker, Arthur E. Morgan. Interspersed with his studies in political science, Mark interned as a legislative assistant in a Washington congressman’s office, worked as an assistant to the curator of the Chicago Natural History Museum, Dr. Paul Martin, on an archeological dig in Arizona and helped bring in the harvest in Herning, Denmark. Further studies included French in Neuchatel, Switzerland and German in the Goethe Institute in Berlin.
Well-rounded and with a Bachelor’s Degree in-hand, Mark joined the Peace Corp in Nepal. As he recalls his experience of “pure love and adventure” among the Nepalese people, he reveals that the recent earthquakes there profoundly affected him.
“I was able to track a few of my friends. Thank God they survived…”
Sometime after this long, formative period, Mark went home for a visit and tried to be part of the plywood and lumber business, learning at his grandfather’s knee.
“After a short while, he sat me down and said, ‘Son, this business probably isn’t for you; why don’t you go explore other things …’”
Grateful for the freedom, Mark headed to California where, on a Fellowship, he enrolled in the Professional school of Journalism at UC Berkeley. He also helped organize the gubernatorial run of Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, who lost to Ronald Reagan. Increasingly a committed liberal Democrat, Mark went on to work for George McGovern.
When Mark returned to Omaha, he met and married Nancy Bounds, who owned a Midwestern modeling school and agency. Over the next 28 years, he helped build it into an international concern, supplying high fashion runway models to designers in Paris, Milan, New York and Tokyo.
“How proud we were to see our kid from Morse Bluffs, Nebraska, coming down a Paris runway for Yves Saint Laurent. But most of the students, of all ages, enrolled to improve or change their look and gain personal confidence in a society that places a great premium on image, whether we like it or not.”
“I, too, learned something important. I learned to work for and with a strong woman. And I have always admired women, from my mother to the girls who passed through our school, to Lell of course and her accomplishments. Women are often quite courageous, and they have an inner understanding of what is valued and needed. They lead with nuance and strength, rather than ego and bombast,” he says, his eyes fierce. “That’s why I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure we have Hillary in the Oval Office come 2017!”
More, Mark is a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood and its president, Cecile Richards.
“The manner in which the Congressional committee treated Cecile in the recent hearings is a national disgrace. Family planning is critical to family health, and women must be able to govern their own bodies.”
Like Pushkin, he’s putting his heart and talents where the fight is. Last month, Mark was invited to recite poetry in a program called a Potpourri of Poetry, featuring the works of Pushkin and other poets, each recitation interspersed with a performance by renowned pianist Vera Kong. The event – one of 18 small, intimate affairs in Santa Barbara County – raised over five-thousand dollars!