As a college student, Clark Tomlinson had a clear vision of his ideal career. “When I was a junior, I hoped that I could get a job in education and make $10,000.” And that’s exactly how things turned out for him. In his first job out of college, he was a guidance counselor and special education coordinator for Columbia School District, and his salary was $10,000. “I thought I had it made.”
However, despite that impressive beginning, education did not become his lifelong work, and today he’s president and owner of Tomlinson Bomberger Lawn Care, Landscape & Pest Control. He started the business with his close friend Dave Bomberger in 1981, and they operated the business together until 2009, when Bomberger retired to pursue other business interests.
For Clark, getting into the lawn care business didn’t mean moving into something completely new. That’s because he already knew grass and plants quite well. “I had worked on the greens and as a caddy at Lancaster Country Club since high school. Dave had studied turf grass at Penn State, and we started this as a part-time, side business.” The business was actually Dave’s idea, and, ironically, he first approached another co-worker with the idea. That man wasn’t interested, but Clark was, and so were many customers.
“In the beginning, we did turf applications, mowing, and fertilizing. By 1984, things were out of control, and customers would ask, ‘Can you prune our trees? Can you …?’ So that year we made the decision to go full time with the business.” Growth has been steady. “We’ve been breaking records every year. The only time we didn’t grow was the recession of 2008–2009.”
To meet customers’ requests, the company has continuously expanded its services, adding tree care, pest control, and maintenance for the athletic fields of more than 70 school districts. “We’re essentially a one-stop shop.” The company now has about 120 employees, all of whom are full time, and June of this year was the biggest revenue month in the company’s history.
For the Tomlinsons, this one-stop shop is truly a family business. Beth, Clark’s wife of 42 years, is the Executive Administrator. She’s from Broomall, and she and Clark met at Millersville State College in the early 1970s. (It became a university in 1983.) Today, 4 of Beth and Clark’s 5 children work in the business.
Clark is a Lancaster native who has spent almost all of his life here. His only significant time away came when he was in grade school and his father’s Navy career took the family away from Lancaster for a few years. When they got back, Clark graduated from Lancaster Catholic High School, Class of 1971, where he participated in just about everything. “I played golf, wrestled, and ran cross-country. I also played clarinet in the band.” Outside of school, he found time to become an Eagle Scout, and as an adult, he served as a scout master when his sons were active in scouting.
His Catholic faith is an integral part of his life, and his #1 spectator sporting passion has a strong connection to that faith. When he was young, Notre Dame football was a rallying point for Catholics across the country. In fact, it still is, and enthusiastic fans with no direct connection to the university have become known as The Subway Alumni. Attending a game in South Bend is a special experience for alumni who are able to do so.
For Clark, his first trip to a game in South Bend almost turned him into a Notre Dame student. “When I was a junior at Lancaster Catholic, my friend Steve Noel and I went to a game at Notre Dame. We loved it and said that we should go there. Then we realized that it’s a 10-hour drive to South Bend. We were both very close with our families, and I wound up going to Millersville, and he went to F&M.”
Although he didn’t earn his degree from Notre Dame, he has become a loyal member of the Subway Alumni. He gets to the campus for a game every year, and going to the games has been a special family event for many years. “When each of my children (3 sons and 2 daughters) became a freshman at Lancaster Catholic, I would take them to a game. Today, I still go every year, and now my sons usually go with me. This year, we’re going to the Temple game on Labor Day weekend.”
On the participant side of sports, his passion is golf, a game that he has played most of his life and that he still plays very well. “I’m about a 10 handicap, and I shot a 73 at Conestoga Country Club in July.” Back in 2004, he had a golfing experience that still brings great memories. “I played on the Bayer Advantage Senior Tour in Kansas City. My son caddied, and my wife was able to walk the course with me. It was the thrill of a lifetime.”
Away from his work and sports, Clark is highly active in the community. “Our company belongs to the Lancaster Chamber, and I’m very active at Saint Leo’s Church. I’m the coordinator for the EITC (Educational Improvement Tax Credit) program.” EITC helps non-public schools in Pennsylvania by allow Pennsylvania businesses to reduce their state tax liability by contributing to a nonprofit educational improvement or nonprofit scholarship organization.
“I’m on the strategic planning committee at Lancaster Catholic, and I’m a member of the Knights of Columbus. I belong to an organization Legatus. The word means Ambassador in Latin, and it’s an group of Catholic business owners.” Tom Monaghan of Domino’s Pizza is the founder of Legatus, and the organization’s guiding philosophy is that even bosses need spiritual guidance as they direct their companies. “I also belong to the S. Dale High Center For Family Business. I also do the Phonathon for Lancaster Catholic every year. I enjoy talking to some of my classmates.”
Lancaster is home, and getting away is highly enjoyable. “We enjoy traveling. My wife tells me that I can’t work all the time, and we’re traveling a little more now. We have a timeshare in Aruba, and we went on a pilgrimage to Italy for Saint Leo’s 50th anniversary a few years ago. This year, we’ll be going to Fatima and Lourdes”
His favorite restaurants in Lancaster are something old and something relatively new. “I certainly like Lombardo’s, and John Jeffries is probably my favorite.”
Clark’s management philosophy is to lead by example. “I believe that you have to walk the walk. Our culture is very important. We get a lot of compliments on our people, how they’re very polite, respectful, and helpful.
“I also believe in letting people make their own decisions, and I like to celebrate success with rewards and recognition. In June, we brought in Scoops Ice Cream. In July, we had a cookout. We go to the Barnstormers.”
Looking ahead, he sees more good years and, perhaps, more growth, for his company. “I see our growth continuing. Our property is 11 acres, and when we bought it in 2004, we thought it would be big enough forever, but now we’re beginning to wonder about that. We’re also looking beyond Lancaster. We already do some work in Harrisburg, Hershey, York, and Reading.”
Clark Tomlinson has built a highly successful business, and he’s quick to share the credit for that growth and success. “We have a great team. I’m not in the seat I’m in because of myself.”