If you’ve been to the LCEC in the past eight years, chances are good that you’ve met Clifford Wilford Jr. He’s worn many hats throughout his time here and experienced much of what this life has to offer before ending up at the LCEC, where he shares his kindness and wisdom each and every day.
Cliff was born in 1949 to Ruby Ivory Nash and Clifford Wilford Sr on the south side of Chicago along with six siblings, and they had a very happy life despite various challenges. With his mom staying home as the main caretaker, his father was able to go out and work. Looking back, Cliff shared, “He was rather brilliant, he knew how to do a lot of things. That’s where I got the ‘jack of all trades’ mentality from.” From underwater engineering to mastering any electronics, Cliff Sr. was the breadwinner for the family that showed young Cliff he could go out and do anything he wanted.
“Growing up, we were ‘poor’, but we didn’t feel poor. Our childhood was wonderful.”
At 17, Cliff dropped out of high school and joined the Marines, sharing, “I grew up in a Catholic school that challenged me. I got good grades, I was always good at school. But in sophomore year after we could no longer afford that school, I had to go to public school, and they were so far behind where I was that it was just boring to me. So, I dropped out!”. Cliff would end up serving for 4 years and 15 days aiding the U.S. in the Vietnam War.
At 21, Cliff left the Marines and went back home to Chicago, sharing, “Things were ok. I got a job. And then I met this lady, and we got together, and didn’t get married but we had two kids, Clifford III and Dorian.” From there, Cliff went on to be a jack of all trades just like his dad. He worked in steel foundries and in insurance, as a car salesman and as a mechanic, as a plumber, and even as a tailor for a men’s suit seller. One job he looked back on fondly was his time in a photo lab. “We developed films for some really high class people that went on safaris and things like that. So you had to be really particular about their films because they were once in a lifetime pictures. That was an intense job but I loved it.”
“I had so many jobs and I loved every one of them. I’m a true jack of all trades and master of none. I love working and I love variety. That’s one of the things that attracted me so much to the Center. There is always something going on. You can’t get bored at Lussier.”
When his sons were six and seven years old, the family moved to Madison, and Cliff has been here ever since. “When I came here, I was supposed to be moving to Milwaukee where I’d gotten a job. I came to Madison to visit some friends, but when I got here I just loved it so much that I never showed up for the job in Milwaukee.” His first job here in Madison was with the university as a Vocational Evaluation Assistant, helping people with disabilities discover what their interests were and what skills they already had so they could find jobs that would be a good fit for them.
After testing out several more careers, Cliff landed at an insurance company that ended up downsizing and Cliff was laid off. As an older worker unsure of what to do next, he went to the job center near his house here on the west side, and they set him up with their GWAAR program that provided employment skills training. They placed him at the LCEC as a paid volunteer working our front desk. “After a year, they asked me to apply for the new administrative assistant position. I jumped at it, and I don’t know how, but I got it! I think Paul Terranova had a lot to do with that. He would never say so, but I didn’t have a college education and everyone else there did. But there was someone in that office that appreciated me… and I’ve been so proud to be a member of the staff ever since.”
“I love Lussier, I love the staff, I love working here.”
Over the years, the role Cliff has played with the LCEC has shifted. Starting out, he was in charge of keeping track of who was coming in and out of the building, sharing, “There was a time when if it went on in the Center, it went through me.” With the inception of the LCEC radio station WWMV-LP 95.5FM, Cliff started hosting his own jazz show. Most recently, Cliff has become a certified Notary and is able to provide various notary tasks for the Center and community members. “I’ve always been the guy that whatever is needed, by whoever, I was there. Just being there and doing whatever the staff needed.” Pre-pandemic, Cliff attended as many community dinners and events as he could, and would lead the yearly Tricky Science Night in October.
When asked what he takes away from his time at the LCEC, he shares, “This is my chance to give back. I’ve had a decent life, and I feel like through Lussier, if I can be kind, if I can help someone, if I can see someone through a tough period in their life, Lussier is an incubator for that kind of stuff, and I just want to give back.” Cliff has always been the true personification of community, what it means to come together, to help each other, and be there for each other. The LCEC is a place for anyone to offer up what they have and find what they need, and we are so grateful to have Cliff’s kindness and wisdom as a part of our community.
If you are interested in Cliff’s free notary services, reach out to him at Cliff@LCECmadison.org or by phone at (608)833-4979 x221 to set up an appointment.