File:Herbert Cleveland.jpg
Induction Category & YearGeneral 2009
Home TownRapid City, SD
Gardner, ND

   Herbert Cleveland
Champion of Excellence


“From farm chores to chapel doors”

Herb and Connie Cleveland arrived in Lead/Deadwood June 1959 shortly after he had been ordained as a Lutheran Pastor. 50 years ago, the people of South Dakota would indelibly touch their lives.

Herb Cleveland found his satisfaction in being a Pastor to many families of the Homestake Mine and all those supporting the gold mine industry. It was in Lead and Deadwood that he entered into service in the field of education, youth work and betterment of the community. During his service in Lead/Deadwood, the education and fellowship facilities were completed at Bethel Lutheran Church.

After those early years, his calling went to Fort Meade and the Veterans of World War I, II, and Korea. There were many challenges in the field of religion and psychology. Battle Fatigue was prevalent and with the advent of the Vietnam War, it became known as PTSD.

As the young veterans of Vietnam started coming in the Veterans Administration, Chaplain Cleveland led in efforts at Fort Meade and in the national system to deal with PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, substance abuse and psycho-social self help programs that would enable the veterans to realize their best self development. He established the first substance abuse treatment center in the Fort Meade Chapel. The Native American Veteran from the many reservations in South Dakota used the VA Medical Center, and Chaplain Cleveland added a Lakota Chaplain to the staff and subsequently Lakota worship services, including Pow-Wows and sweat lodge experiences.

Chaplain Cleveland developed Clergy Conferences that featured national religious leaders who could speak to the needs of local leaders to care for Veterans and their families as they re-entered community life.

With a strong interest in the history of Fort Meade and the surrounding area, he mobilized like-minded friends and co-workers to preserve and develop the Fort Meade Cavalry Museum. This is now a great attraction in the Black Hills and South Dakota. The VA Medical Center Director appointed Chaplain Cleveland Chairman of the Bicentennial Celebration. The week of celebration culminated in “It Started Here Day” with the largest parade in the history of Fort Meade, including Governor Kneip’s arrival by helicopter on the parade grounds.

The Historical Chapel, whose fellowship center is named after him, was developed into a beautiful worship center for Veterans, active duty and community members. There was also an internal chapel in the hospital and Chaplain Cleveland participated in the many services at Black Hills National Cemetery.

In 1983, the Department of Veterans Affairs was searching for new leadership in the Chief of Chaplains Office at 810 Vermont Avenue in Washington, D.C. After their search, they asked Chaplain Cleveland to become the new Deputy Chief. In this position he served as Human Resource Director and Educational Development officer. He also became heavily involved in ecumenical relations with all the faiths that were held by members of the Armed Forces of the United States. During this time, he recruited minority Chaplains to serve the increasing number of minorities serving in the Armed Forces and retiring to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

With his vast experience with the psychosocial religious world, he developed many institutes of training to meet the needs of disabled Veterans. He tried to find a helpful resolution to all the problems Veterans have – young and old, male and female. Until his term in Washington, the Chaplaincy had been all male, so with increasing numbers of women entering the ranks of military Veterans, he recruited a number of women Chaplains to serve. The new Chaplains School created during his tenure was able to provide professional training to assist the women Chaplains entering the service.

In 1988 he was appointed by President Reagan as the first Lutheran and first clergy member from South Dakota as Chief of Chaplains for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This was not only a great privilege, but also a great responsibility because the Cold War was coming to an end and many religious and military issues of the past 58 years were changing. He felt it was a privilege to serve not only South Dakota, but also all the people of the United States during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

There was much to be done nationally and internationally and it was the values and skills he had honed in South Dakota that helped him to serve in these critical years.

The diplomatic services that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs had Chaplain Cleveland lead were exciting. Starting with the visit of Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan and followed by the Patriarch of all Eastern Orthodox churches of the World and the official visits of the Russian Patriarch of Moscow.

Chaplain Cleveland his wife Connie participated in the international exchange of Choral and Symphonic music, which was heavily interwoven with diplomatic and ecumenical understanding. The largest single trip was the trip of a choir of 150 voices accompanied by the national VA symphony as they performed with the famed Russian Army Chorus sin Moscow and St. Petersburg on the first anniversary of freedom. Following this visit, Russians and former Soviet Block clergy were invited to visit and train in the United States.

During the years 1991-93 Chaplain Cleveland served as Director of Ethics for Healthcare Management, an appointment by President Clinton. In this position, he related to the faith groups in America and the health challenges of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At the close of 10 years in D.C., the Cleveland’s chose to return to South Dakota and selected Rapid City as their home. This was soon to be another chapter of service to the people of South Dakota. Chaplain Cleveland served churches in Hill City, Custer, Hermosa, Piedmont and Rapid City.

In the 15 years since returning from the regular Chaplaincy, he has continued to serve by volunteering. He conducts many services for Veterans of all eras of service, including funerals, memorial services, weddings, and family reunion services. He has been active in the study of Jewish questions of the Holocaust and was a keynote speaker at the Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Service) Memorial in Rapid City. During the three years of peak deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, Chaplain Cleveland served as Chaplain to the National Guard and Army Reserve Cadets at the Fort Meade Officers Training facility.

He also developed mission tours to Southeast Asia traveling to China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar. The tours are people-to-people with emphasis on understanding the folks of these areas. It was in 2008 that the President of Payap University of Chiang Mai, Thailand recognized Chaplain Cleveland at a surprise Presidential dinner with the Distinguished Alumni Award. Over the years, he has supported a children’s rescue mission that provides housing and education to young girls until they can become successful citizens.

Chaplain Cleveland continues to find time to join a group of Veterans at the sports center at Ellsworth Air Force Base to enjoy working out and swimming. In this activity, he has involved his grandsons. He finds great joy and ultimate meaning in the love of his family.

Home Town (Rapid City, SD)
Loading map...