Jan. 7—NEW CASTLE — When John Clark needed inspiration, he had only to look as far as his big sister, Sierra.
She was a cheerleading coach, designed and sold clothing, operated a travel agency and helped care for children.
"She inspired me to continue on my entrepreneurial journey," said Clark, 27, who works in the insurance field and, until recently, self-employed as a mobile notary public.
To her brother, Sierra Madison-Clark was more than a sister. She was a role model.
Nearly five years after Madison-Clark was murdered in Sharon, she is still bringing her family and friends together. On Dec. 29, they celebrated the night before what would have been Sierra's 35th birthday with a party at Capitol Grill in New Castle.
Stacy Clark, Sierra's mother, said they hold the event every year not to mourn her daughter's death, but to celebrate a life, and even the venue is chosen deliberately — the Capitol Grill owners collaborated with Sierra on some of her business ventures.
The guests shared dinner, a cake in the shape of a "3" and a "5," and, most importantly, stories about Sierra.
One of Stacy's favorite stories was about how her daughter won Holiday Queen honors at Lawrence County Career and Technical Center one year, and then won again the next year, only to be told that she couldn't repeat as winner two years in a row.
But Stacy said the other students cheered for her anyway, as an acknowledgement of Sierra's ability to connect with those around her.
A cheerleader at Union High School, Sierra continued to stay involved in the activity by running her own squad that marched in all of the New Castle parades, Stacy said.
Whether it was cheerleading, running her many businesses or just spending time with family, Sierra brought plenty of activity to everything she did, said Javonne Rankin, a cousin and close friend from childhood.
"She was very energetic," Rankin said. "I remember her being so full of life. If something wasn't right, she would speak up."
Sierra was killed Jan. 29, 2018, along Stambaugh Avenue in Sharon. Her killer was sentenced in 2019 to 27 to 54 years in prison.
And even as Stacy Clark celebrated her daughter's life, and the lives Sierra touched, she hopes to do more.
Stacy plans to hold a rally to stop gun violence that took her daughter away too soon.
"It keeps her spirit alive," Stacy said.
Sierra's father, Gerald Clark I, said she was "chosen to be his daughter."
"The first thing she would do if something happened, she'd call me," he said.
Stacy said her daughter was close with her friends, but she was even closer with her family. Sierra helped take care of her younger relatives.
"She was all about family," Stacy said. "There were three cousins that she helped raise."
Stacy said her daughter would throw a Mothers Day party for all of the moms in her life, but with a twist.
The moms got what might be the best Mothers Day gift of all — a day off.
"The men did all the work and the mothers were pampered," Stacy said.
Sierra's spirit, in the form of that party, outlived her.
"We still do it every Mothers Day."