Flags at the South Dakota Capitol are flying at half-staff today in honor of long-time Hot Springs civic leader and former state lawmaker Charles “Eddie” Clay. Clay passed away Thursday at age 90 and his funeral is today.
Clay served in the state House from 1967-1974 and was the 1974 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, but was best known for his work with tourism and public organizations…especially the Hot Springs Mammoth Site, where he was president from 1984 to 2008.
Joe Muller is the Mammoth Site’s longtime business manager. He says Eddie Clay was the go-to guy for projects and programs of all kinds in Hot Springs for decades.
Eddie Clay grew up in Missouri and came to the Black Hills during WWII when he was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base…and where he met his wife Clara…who survives him.
Clay was the owner of Fall River Abstract for 42 years, but was also a realtor, city manager, and ceramic artist.
He was active in the Masons…becoming the state’s longest living Grand Master last year…and served on the boards of the state Chamber of Commerce, Black Hills Playhouse, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, AAA of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore National Memorial Society, and the Black Hills Council of Local Governments.
Joe Muller says all those activities and Clay’s natural inclination to help others meant that he developed close relationships with people all across South Dakota…making his passing felt even more deeply.
Still, Eddie Clay may have been most-associated with the Mammoth Site. Muller says it would not be the world-class research facility and popular tourist destination it is today if not for Clay’s leadership.
The Mammoth Site board turned to Clay for fundraising one last time earlier this year, establishing the Charles E. Clay Legacy. with a goal of raising $850,000 for the Mammoth Site by the end of next February.
Muller says membership director Diane Turner came up with the Legacy as a way for the Site and the public to honor Clay’s lifetime of service.
Eddie Clay’s many honors include an honorary doctorate from South Dakota School of Mines in 1983, the South Dakota “Ben Black Elk Award” for Outstanding Service to Tourism in 1995, and induction into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in September 2007.
Survivors include his beloved wife of 66 years, Clara Mae of Hot Springs; on daughter, four grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers a memorial has been established in Eddie’s name to benefit the Charles E. Clay Legacy at the Mammoth Site, the United Churches, and the Harmony Lodge 110 Scholarship Fund.