The ‘Heart of Gold’ behind Stark County's Veterans
Jessica Clifton honored with the prestigious Spirit of Excellence Award for 10 years of exceptional service, becoming the 11th recipient.
DICKINSON — The Veterans Pavilion, adjacent to the Veterans Memorial located in Memorial Park in Dickinson, was abuzz with excitement Wednesday evening as friends, family, veterans and community members gathered to honor Jessica Clifton, the county's Veterans Service Officer.
Clifton's exceptional commitment to ensuring that veterans receive the care and support they deserve has earned her a reputation as one of the most dedicated veteran service officers and public servants in the state.
For more than a decade, Clifton has worked tirelessly to ensure that the veterans of Stark County, and even those from areas outside her responsibility, are cared for and aware of the benefits they have earned through their service to the country. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, and in front of a packed house on Mar. 29, she was honored with the prestigious Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award.
Bobbie Ackerman was the first to speak and shared with a surprised Clifton why she was being honored. Ackerman spoke about her daughter's passion and dedication in caring for veterans.
“Each and every day I have witnessed Jessica serve the veterans in our community. She delivers food, household goods and any requests the Veterans have. She goes above and beyond her job duties to care for our veterans. She takes time out of her weekends to sit with Veterans at the Hospital and Nursing Homes to make sure they are not alone, and they know that they are not forgotten,” she said. “Jessica's kindness, compassion and heart of gold is exactly what our veterans need. She calls each veteran her friend…I am honored to call her my daughter.”
The award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to bettering their communities, centered on Clifton's tangible difference she has made in the lives of countless individuals, and how her tireless efforts have set a standard of excellence for all to emulate.
As Clifton accepted the award, the room was filled with a palpable sense of admiration and respect because for those who have had the privilege of working with her, she is more than just a public servant - she is an inspiration and friend. To the many veterans of Stark County, Clifton is a guardian angel, tirelessly working to ensure that they receive the care and support they need to live their lives to the fullest, with honor.
The many speakers at the event, including veterans, politicians and community members, praised Clifton for her kindness, compassion and “heart of gold.” Clifton's work was touted as the shining example of stewardship, providing selfless service to veterans within an organization and community entity, managing and supervising them with love and compassion.
Among the speakers praising the local hero was Julie Obrigewitsch, founder of the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award; Lori Henrique, a veteran aided by Clifton; Bryan Watters, North Dakota State Service Officer Supervisor; Tom Coons, American Legion Riders; Brian Benesh, a veteran and previous recipient of the award; and Christina Depew, a friend who sent a video from Washington D.C., Jay Wandler, ENG Lending; Neal Messer, Stark County Commissioner; and Scott Decker, Mayor of Dickinson, who personally thanked Clifton for the work she had done for him and his father.
"Jessica Clifton was awarded the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award for her unwavering dedication to serving our Veterans," Julie Obrigewitsch, founder of the prestigious award, said. "Through her 10 years of service, Jessica has gone above and beyond her job duties, delivering food, household goods and even spending her weekends with Veterans at hospitals and nursing homes. Her kindness, compassion and heart of gold are exactly what our Veterans need.”
She added, “We congratulate Jessica on this well-deserved honor and thank her for her unwavering service to our community."
In addition to those who were in attendance, others provided letters to honor and congratulate Clifton. Among them was Colonel Delbert Rivera, Vice Commander Department of the Air Force; U.S. Congressman Kelly Armstrong; U.S. Senators Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.
As a County Veterans Service officer, Clifton provides expertise and advocacy to optimize access to benefit programs for veterans. She helps veterans receive assistance with everything ranging from lack of mobility to food insecurity. Clifton's work is part social service, part counselor and part lawyer.
She has embodied the adage of "never leave a brother or sister behind" and has helped veterans get to the other side of their problems together. Her fighting mentality and spirit comes from her time in the United States Air Force — a veteran herself.
Clifton acknowledges how her time in the military helped mold her ethical approach to life and seeped into everything she does, from motherhood to her current role as a VSO. The position comes with the highest of highs when a long, drawn-out battle with the VA awards a veteran their owed benefits, but also comes with the lowest of lows when arranging funeral services and honors for veterans who pass.
Clifton acknowledged that she gets very attached to all the veterans she works with and feels a certain sense of duty and for each. Like family, when a veteran passes away she is there and her goal remains to highlight their service at every opportunity and ensure that they are not forgotten.
This was no more clear than in her acceptance speech, where she diverted the attention away from her to honor a veteran who had recently passed.
Honoring Clifton, in addition to the many in attendance, were a collection of area businesses and entities. Each provided donations or gifts to Clifton in recognition of her more than a decade of diligent service.
Among the donors were the American Foundation for Wildlife at the Southside Saloon, ConocoPhillips, Eagles Club, Family Fare, Four Seasons Trophies, Helmet Woodworks, Kim Grote, Little Town Soy Candle Co., Quality Quick Print, Stark County Association of Deputies, The Kind Hearts Project, Badlands Big Sticks baseball, Blue 42, Cash Wise, Cory White, Designs by Jessica, Dickinson State University, and various other anonymous donors. Each provided Clifton with gifts in recognition of her contributions.