Chapel honors Nick Clifford

Leslie Silverman

The Memorial Chapel at Mountain View Cemetery in Keystone is close to completion.

The chapel was donated by Carolyn Clifford to mark the passing of her husband, Nick, who passed away in 2019.

“When I got the idea for the chapel it was about a year ago in October,” Carolyn said. “This was before Nick passed away.”

The inspiration came after listening to a dedication of a chapel given by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The Cliffords had a soft spot for the cemetery.

“We used to go up and sit at that bench up there. It was a quiet peaceful place. Sometimes we’d walk around if there wasn’t any snow and it was a nice day. Then he’d go to Halley’s and play pinocle with the men,” Carolyn joked.

She recalls the two brought cookies and coffee to the cemetery on the morning of the auction in which they’d acquire Nick’s childhood home.

The chapel is a compelling building on a property that has undergone a transformation over the last year.

The property’s transformation, though, dates back a few years.

“They started that a few years back when they put the flagpoles in the turnaround,” Carolyn said. “Nick always wanted to do these things if they were asking for money or donations for things that would better the town.”

The Cliffords agreed to donate $1,000 to the town for a flagpole, but ultimately that money wasn’t needed.

Current Keystone Town Board trustee Kwinn Neff, who was on the town board in 2016, spearheaded the changes to Mountain View. He refers to the cemetery as Keystone’s “hidden gem.”

“It is also the only cemetery in the Black Hills with a view of Mount Rushmore, with many of the past workers buried there,” Neff said. “I thought it would be great to create an area to have ceremonies and more parking for services. I have built a retaining wall, installed flag poles and created a parking lot.”

Local Jim DeHaii contributed to the project by taking down trees.

Benches, to memorialize the departed with ties to Keystone, were donated by loved ones. The town began to not only beautify the grounds but protect the rights of Keystonians to be buried there by passing a cemetery ordinance, outlining who qualified for the $300 plot price. The ordinance requires a link to the town in some way or a waiver from the cemetery commission and an adjusted plot price of $1,500.

Carolyn sits on that commission.

“I have a real connection to that place now,” she said.

She is glad to be asked to serve.

The chapel, much like the cemetery, was put together by community members. Marty Hunsaker of MH Builders built the chapel.

“The city chose him because he has done a lot of work for them,” Carolyn said. “That was pretty unique because Marty worked for us when he was 11 years old. He helped Nick the first year we opened the Dip A Lot.”

The Cliffords hired local boys, with Caroyln saying, “(Marty) worked in the kitchen with Nick.”

Hunsaker, who has lived in Keystone since he was 2, recalls, “It was my very first job. I was his right hand man.”

Carolyn thinks having Hunsaker build it might be what would please Nick most about the chapel.

Jodie McClure, the former pastor at the United Church of Christ in Keystone, donated some church pews to create seating inside the chapel. McClure and her husband, Bruce, lived in Keystone for 25 years before purchasing the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Sundance, Wyo., the former home of the donated pews.

The chapel has a few finishing touches to undergo before it is complete.

Granite pavers from Mount Rushmore, generously donated by Keystonian Ray French, will be used to protect the area around the chapel.

An iron steeple, crafted by Hunsaker and French to resemble drill bits and pay homage to Nick’s legacy as a Mount Rushmore carver, will soon adorn the top of the chapel.

“It’s gonna look cool,” said Hunsaker.

Carolyn thinks Nick would be pleased with the chapel.

“I just think he’d be happy to have something permanent and a nice addition to the Keystone community,” Carolyn said.

The chapel isn’t solely a memorial for Nick.

“It’s a place that’s not necessarily in his memory. He has too many friends buried up there too,” Carolyn said.

The white building is a beautiful setting for ceremonies. Carolyn herself used the chapel for her recent wedding to her new husband, Doug. She hopes others hold ceremonies there or use it as a place for reflection or meditation

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