Remembering Gayle Clifford

UND’s former First Lady was wife of late President Tom Clifford

In this UND archival image, Tom Clifford (left) and Gayle Clifford wave to the crowd at the farewell party for them in May 1992. Earl Strinden, then-president of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, is at the right.

It is with regret that UND announces the death of Gayle Clifford, former UND First Lady and wife of the late President Tom Clifford. She passed away in her home Jan. 3 at age 79.

“Kathy and I were saddened to hear the news of Mrs. Clifford’s passing,” said President Andy Armacost. “She, like President Tom Clifford, held a deep respect for the people of our UND community and Grand Forks. Her personal examples of compassion, enthusiasm, and friendship are those that Kathy and I will continue to emulate. We wish her entire family a sense of peace, knowing that her remarkable legacy will endure.”

Gayle Ann Kielty Clifford was born on March 28, 1941 in Fargo, N.D., to Francis Wendell (Wen) and Pearle Lois (Powers) Kielty. The family moved to Grand Forks and opened Chief Pontiac Motors, which eventually became Kielty Motors on the corner of Washington and 32nd.

Gayle Clifford

She graduated from St. James Catholic High School in 1959 as the class valedictorian. Gayle attended St. Catherine’s University in Minneapolis for one year and then returned to Grand Forks and attended the University of North Dakota. She married Thomas E. Kenville in 1963 and they began their journey in the U.S. Air Force, which took them to Enid, OK, Waco, TX and Del Rio, TX. They returned to Grand Forks in 1969.

Gayle and Tom and their two children, Thomas K. Kenville and Kimberly A. Kenville, moved to Thief River Falls, Minn., and began Thomas Motors until the dealership was sold in 1985.

Gayle moved back to Grand Forks and married UND President Thomas J. Clifford in 1986. She and Tom lived on the UND campus the remainder of his presidency, and she loved being a spokesperson and first lady of the University. Upon Tom’s retirement they remained in Grand Forks in her beloved home on Reeves Drive and in a warmer Arizona climate. Gayle was social and was in a myriad of clubs and groups. She had many friendships spanning the state and beyond. Her signature red hair, often in pigtails, and her always-smiling disposition was a style unto her own and all who met her, never forgot her.

Gayle and Tom traveled, and their favorite location was always Ireland! Those that went on UND Alumni trips will recall many fond memories of Gayle and Tom leading trips and she was always the teacher – giving many, many factoids about the history, the culture, or the people whenever and wherever they traveled. She lost her beloved Tom on Feb. 4, 2009.

Gayle remained active in the Grand Forks community, the state historical society, a suite-captain at the Ralph and at their lake home on Pelican Lake. She fought a courageous nine-year battle with pancreatic cancer, and she did it with class. Many thanks go out to her circle of special friends and the health care community of Grand Forks for taking such great care of her, especially Dr. Yvonne Gomez and Dr. Kevin Panico.

Tom and Gayle Clifford

She is survived by her sister, Wendy Kielty Lunski, her son Thomas (Tommy) K. Kenville (friend – Cindy Schreiber-Beck), her daughter Kimberly A. Kenville (Jon Scraper) and 8 grandchildren: Kortney Kenville, Katie Kenville, Megan Christensen, Abbey Christensen, Kamryn Buettner, Mackenzie Scraper, Bridger Scraper and Hale Scraper; niece and nephew Shawn Lunski Cunningham and Chad Lunski.

She was preceded in death by her parents F.W. and Pearle Kielty, her infant sister, Kimberly Ann Kielty and her beloved husband Thomas J. Clifford.

In lieu of flowers, feel free to make donations on Gayle’s behalf to the Altru Cancer Center, 960 S. Columbia Rd, Grand Forks, ND 58201 or St. Gianna Maternity Home, 15605 County Road 15, Minto, ND 58261.

Private Mass of Christian Burial: To view live streamed Mass, at 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, please visit https://www.facebook.com/normanfuneralhomechapel/.

Public Visitation:  10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, 2021 in the Historic Norman Funeral Home Chapel. Due to COVID-19, social distancing and masks are required.

Burial: In the spring at Calvary North Cemetery, Grand Forks.