Bowling Green – J. Clifford Todd (Cliff), age 93, born March 13, 1928, made his transition peacefully at home on July 13, 2021.
He was born at home – a “Sears” mail-order house, on a farm near Fort Knox, Kentucky at Steels Crossroads, which was home to his parents, George W. and Rebecca Todd, his five brothers and his twin sister. As a youngster, he attended a small one-room school with grades one through six and worked on the farm with his father and brothers.
In 1941, the government took the Todd farm, and many others, by Eminent Domain in order to expand the Army facility by 150,000 acres at the beginning of World War II. Cliff and his family then moved to Glendale, Kentucky to a nicer farm with electricity and crushed rock road. In addition, Glendale had a school with grades one through twelve and Cliff’s dream of going to high school came true.
Cliff continued to go to school while still helping on the family farm. He was paid $1 a day for cultivating corn with a team of mules. In 1946, during his senior year, he was able to work a full night shift at Fort Knox typing discharge papers for soldiers leaving the Army.
Although his mother wanted him to work on the farm after graduation, Cliff decided that he wanted to go to college at Western Kentucky University. He gained admission in 1946 and paid for his books, tuition, room and board with money earned from part time jobs. At one time, he held five different jobs while attending school.
Cliff then went to Oklahoma to attend veterinary school. He also joined the Air Force Reserves for two years, which he left after one year and returned to Kentucky. He obtained a job working at the Kentucky Health Center which primarily dealt with the diagnosis and treatment of venereal diseases. On the side, he worked selling real estate.
In 1957, the Governor of Kentucky, Happy Chandler, hired Cliff to write the health and safety guidelines, which would be part of the “Survival Plan” for Kentucky citizens during the Cold War with Russia and the threat of a nuclear war.
In 1958, Cliff attended Columbia University in New York City where he earned a master’s degree in Public Health with an emphasis on Epidemiology. He then returned to Kentucky where he took a position as the State Epidemiologist with the Kentucky Department of Health. During his tenure, he was responsible for organizing the state’s 120 counties to carry out mass immunization clinics for the Salk Polio vaccine and two years later the Oral Sabin vaccine. This helped lead to the eradication of polio.
While working for the Health Department, he also started buying and selling farms and other properties and that is when he started his move into contracting and built his first building, a small post office in Edinburgh, Indiana. In 1969 he left the Health Department to follow other endeavors. He built five Convenient Food Marts and several Burger Queens.
In 1972, he purchased the Old Hellmueller Bakery in Butchertown (downtown Louisville). He developed the area into a boutique shopping center with 24 shops, a Citizens Fidelity Bank branch, and the Stable Restaurant. It became the second most visited tourist attraction in Louisville next to Churchill Downs. In 1973, he brought the first horse and carriage for use in Butchertown, which was the first on Louisville streets since the advent of the automobile.
In 1982 Cliff purchased the Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Hospital at an auction and, later, attempted to renovate and turn it into a 500-man prison. His efforts were defeated by the local community, and he sold the property. Not to be deterred, he formed U.S. Corrections Corp (USCC). He then purchased St. Mary’s Seminary in Marion County, Kentucky, where he developed the first privately owned and operated prison in the country. By 1994, USCC was operating seven facilities in four states.
In 1997, Cliff was tried and convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to six months in federal prison. With his enduring positive outlook, Cliff celebrated by riding his bicycle from Simpsonville, Kentucky to the federal prison in Beckley, West Virginia raising money for battered women in Shelby County. This ride became known as “The Ride of Broken Promises.”
A long-time supporter of his alma mater, Cliff served on the WKU College of Education and Behavioral Sciences Board, WKU Board of Advisors, and the College of Health and Human Services Stakeholders Advisory Board. He was recognized by WKU in the Society of 1906 and the Cherry Society for his generous philanthropy.
In 1999, Cliff began a tradition of bestowing donations to WKU with an initial investment for an Endowed Professorship in Longevity and Healthful Living. In 2017, he gifted an additional amount to support the renovation of the President’s Home and to renovate the offices of the College Heights Foundation. In recognition of his generosity, WKU named the Cliff Todd Garden at the President’s Home and named the College Heights Foundation office as the Cliff Todd Center. This building now holds the distinction of being the oldest building on campus. Cliff was also the consummate advocate for the transformative power of education and was a strong supporter of providing access and opportunity through student scholarships, so he established the Cliff Todd Scholarship Fund within the College Heights Foundation to benefit deserving students attending WKU.
In addition to WKU, his philanthropy touched many other organizations and lives. In 2006, Cliff’s vision and generosity dramatically altered the LGBTQ struggle for fairness in the Commonwealth. Cliff helped create the JustFundKy endowment that will exist in perpetuity. He guaranteed meaningful LGBTQ education work in the Commonwealth of Kentucky for generations to come. His substantial matching gift that spurred the formation of the endowment was an example that inspired many individuals and corporations to endorse this effort.
Cliff also wanted to honor his twin sister, Catherine, in a meaningful way. She grew up deeply challenged with sensory disabilities, and Cliff took his first job as a teenager to enable her to have a hearing aid. He understood the challenges she faced and became connected through a mutual friendship with Camphill Village Kimberton Hills in Phoenixville, PA where adults with developmental disabilities live in an integrated community where they can live a life of dignity, equality and purpose. Cliff further demonstrated his benevolence through a significant matching grant to Camphill Village Kimberton Hills to construct the Cliff and Catherine Todd Sankanac CSA Building to honor his sister’s legacy.
Cliff is survived by his spouse, Carlos H. L. Costa; three (3) loving daughters, Mia Smith, Stacy Todd, and Kelly Cohen; two (2) sons-in-laws; Peter Smith and Glenn Cohen; and seven (7) grandchildren, Bennett Smith, Abigail Smith, Harry Smith, Hunt Lenz, William Cohen, Frances Cohen, and Annabeth Cohen.
There will be a celebration of his life at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky on July 31, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. CST/11:00 a.m. EST at the Chandler Chapel and Columbarium. A reception will follow at the Cliff Todd Center. In lieu of flowers, please send your generous donations in Cliff’s memory to THE CLIFF TODD SCHOLARSHIP FUND AT WKU, c/o College Heights Foundation, 1906 College Heights Boulevard, Bowling Green, Ky 42101.