Counselor Lenny Clifford marks 40th year at Red Cloud

posted on May 4, 2012

When Lenny Clifford started working at Red Cloud, it was a different world.

Richard Nixon was still in office, and the Watergate scandal was still on the distant horizon. Locally, the occupation of Wounded Knee had not yet happened. The change of the school’s name from Holy Rosary Mission to Red Cloud Indian School had only occurred a couple of years prior, and the school still had open dormitories for students who boarded.

Clifford graduated from Holy Rosary in 1965. He then went to college at Black Hills State in Spearfish, SD. After two years at Black Hills, Clifford taught at Todd County High School on the Rosebud Reservation. Upon finishing two years at Todd County, he enrolled at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion to get his master’s degree in guidance and psychology. At that time, he also received a lifetime K-12 counseling certification. Finally, he went to Utah State University for two years to work on his PhD, although he did not complete that program.

When Clifford began working at Red Cloud in 1972, he was the only counselor on staff. He recalls how at that time, because the institution was open around the clock (due to the dorms), and because the staff was relatively small, “the few people we had on staff had to help with the kids in the dorm after school and until bedtime.” Clifford says he would get home around 10:00 every night of the week. Despite the long hours, he mainly looks back on this era positively, as a time of great cooperation among the staff; “The many things that needed to be done were shared by all.”

In addition to his counseling work, Clifford wore many hats as a multi-sport coach. During his career, he has coached or helped to coach basketball, football, and wrestling. And, in what may be his greatest extra-curricular accomplishment, he and then-Athletic Director Bob Pourier started Red Cloud’s golf program during the 1990s. Clifford was so dedicated to this program that at first, he coached for free. Since its inception, the golf team has become one of Red Cloud’s most successful sports endeavors.

Clifford says that the highlight of his 40 years working at Red Cloud was during Chuck Cuny’s tenure as principal of the high school. Clifford remembers Cuny, himself a graduate of Red Cloud, very fondly. He says, “Every decision [Chuck] made was from a local Lakota male, and was made for the good of the students.” Another highlight for Clifford was when the Red Cloud Crusaders boys’ basketball team won the South Dakota state tournament in 1995.

One of Clifford’s main hopes for the future is that Red Cloud will work to educate “all the children of God”, and that it will be able to rely to an even greater extent on the experience of educated and capable people from the local community.

We can only imagine what changes will have transpired here at the school forty years from now. In the meantime, we salute Lenny Clifford, whose work has encompassed an era of growth and change here at Red Cloud.