Story by Eli Ruiz
JEFFERSONVILLE For 25 years, Steve Clifford has been in a wheelchair. And for 25 years, Steve Clifford has refused to let it stop him... until now.
The Jeffersonville native was working for the village in 1987 on a water line project. He’d climbed into a trench to measure the depth of a pipe when a rock rolled over the edge and came down square on his back. It wasn’t a boulder, his brother Pat recalled, just a rock.
And yet it would cause injuries so devastating that Steve would remain in the hospital from June 15, 1987, until September of that year and he’d never regain the use of his legs.
But that didn’t stop Steve, Pat said.
By November of that same year, he was already working full-time as a dispatcher for Sullivan County’s control center.
It was a job he’d hold for a number of years before the constant change in work shifts became too much for his body to handle. But again, Pat said, Steve didn’t stop.
He opened a small shop in Jeffersonville selling guns and trophies. It would remain open for eight years before the competition from the big box stores proved too much.
And then Steve moved on. He rigged equipment so his paraplegic body could run it, and he started excavating, brush hogging, doing whatever jobs he could find.
“You forgot that he was even handicapped,” Pat’s wife Lorraine said. “You’d see him riding around town in his dump truck, and you didn’t even notice.”
That’s the way Steve did things; he didn’t let his injury stop him.
“If something didn’t work, he made it work,” Pat added.
All through that, he worked in his community too. He was an active member of the Jeffersonville Fire Department, even serving as its chief. He’d plow the driveway of the Catholic church for free.
“He’d bend over backwards for anyone in the community,” said longtime friend Jackie Gieger. “If anyone calls and needs help, he’d drive his tractor over and help.”
But then in August last year came a wound that refused to heal.
Steve had always been self-sufficient, living on his own, paying for his own wheelchairs, making things work. Now he was stuck at home, alternating between his bed and a stand-up wheelchair while he waited for the wound to close up.
“It went from days to weeks to months and it wouldn’t get better,” Pat explained.
Then the wound got infected, and then the infection spread. In the past year, it’s ravaged his body and weakened his heart.
Steve Clifford is in the hospital now, still waiting for the wound to heal. He’s finally gotten health insurance, but the medical bills are piled up, and he still can’t go back to work.
And that’s where the community he’s spent his life helping comes in. Jackie Gieger and her daughter Brittny, Lisa Edwards, and Donna Abplanalp approached Pat and wife Lorraine and asked if they could throw a benefit for Steve.
This Sunday, October 7, they’ve planned a barbecue and benefit horseshoe tournament at the White Sulphur Springs Fireman’s Park. Anyone who wants to stop by for a day of food can swing by and pay $15, and anyone who wants to get in on the game can pay $20 to eat and enter the tournament. All the proceeds will go to Steve.
Money donations are aslo welcome and can be sent to Jeff Bank. Checks made out to The Steve Clifford Benefit Fund can be mailed to PO Box 398, Jeffersonville, N.Y. 12748.