Clint Hill relates joys, sorrows of his Kennedy family years
Clint Hill’s family history includes ushering at cousin Kenneth Hill’s 1948 wedding to Beulah McElwain, in Minot. The wedding party included, from left: Clint Hill, Royce Hill, Virn McElwain, Kenneth and Beulah (future parents of North Dakota Living Editor-in-Chief
Dennis Hill), Norma Hill and Marian Kolbo. (Courtesy Photo)
D. Hill: Clint, let’s start by telling us about your upbringing in North Dakota and Washburn.
C. Hill: I was placed in the North Dakota Children’s Home in Fargo shortly after my birth in Larimore, in 1932. About three months later, Chris and Jenny Hill adopted me and brought me to Washburn. I lived there, finished high school there in 1950 and went on to college at Concordia in Moorhead. My time in Washburn was absolutely remarkable. It was a wonderful place to grow up.
D. Hill: I recall reading that you were athletic and had music talent as well
C. Hill: Yes, I played American Legion baseball in Washburn. I played high school football, basketball and ran track. I also sang in the glee club, played in the high school band, acted in a play or two. I had a full student experience in high school.
D. Hill: Let’s talk next about the family connections that you have in North Dakota. Since we both have Hill for a last name, let’s start there. I brought along a picture of my parents’ wedding at which you were an usher. I trust my parents treated you well for your service?
C. Hill: (Laughs) They were incredible, and yes, they treated me well. Your father always had a smile, was always happy. I knew your mother before your father did because the McElwain family, of which she was a part, was active in music. Her older brother, Virn, was a music teacher, and I happened to be a member of the all-county band in McLean County, and he was the director. I recall meeting him and some of the family at that time.
There are quite a number of cousins on the Hill side still living in the Minot area. I was fortunate to be back in Minot at the Høstfest in 2012 and it was wonderful to see many of them there, including relatives on my mother’s side. My mother, Jenny, was a Rostad. Her sister, Mabel, was married and lived in the Stanley area.
D. Hill: Your sister, Janice, was married to Oben Gunderson. I recall Oben was a former state legislator.
C. Hill: They lived on a farm near McCanna. Oben grew up there and they met at Concordia College in Moorhead. They were married in Washburn and lived on the farm most of their lives. Janice passed away in 2002. Oben still lives in Grand Forks. As you say, he was a member in the North Dakota Legislature. He loves that land and still owns that farm near McCanna, spending as much time out there as he can.
D. Hill: I recall being at Oben and Janice’s farm shortly after the assassination for a family reunion. I remember us kids being sent over to the playground to get out of the way, so the adults could visit with you. I remember seeing you from afar with your black polo shirt, black pants and sunglasses on - dressed as the quintessential Secret Service agent. Do you remember?
C. Hill: You have that memory correct. I usually did wear all black – “the man in black” they called me. Yes, I did get back there after that particular event. I tried to go back to North Dakota at least once a year. It was very difficult at times, but we managed to get back there as often as possible. After I retired from the Secret Service, that’s where I actually went to feel a sense of relief, to sort things out. The trouble was, I ended up “picking rock,” but that put my mind in another spectrum. I didn’t think about anything but picking those rocks.
D. Hill: I know the feeling. We did a lot of that on our farm. And, regarding your birth, in Larimore, and your birth mother: Are there family members remaining in North Dakota from your birth mother’s side of the family?
C. Hill: My birth mother was Alma Peterson Paulson. She had had five children prior to my birth. All five of those children are deceased. She had one daughter about a year and a half after my birth, and I did meet that daughter. I found my birth mother in 1984, and she died that fall. She was almost 91. I located her in a nursing home in Northwood. She had had a number of strokes, and so she could not communicate with me. I did explain to her who I was. She did smile, but she was unable to react.
D. Hill: Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying that were it not for his time in North Dakota, he never would have become president. What role do you think your upbringing in North Dakota had on your successful career in the Secret Service?
C. Hill: I think it had a great deal to do with any success I’ve ever had. The way I was brought up, we were taught certain things. One was that you’re given responsibility to carry out the job that you’re assigned to do, all the way, to the end result. Never shirk your duty. The sense of working hard and doing the job the best you can helped me a good deal throughout my life.