Lehmann Leaves 35-Year Legacy at USD
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Lehmann Leaves 35-Year Legacy at USD

Clayton Lehmann, a USD history professor, passed away Nov. 16 after he was hit by a car while riding his bike to work Tuesday morning.

Lehmann, a professor at USD for 35 years, was born in 1955 and raised on a farm outside of Hurley, South Dakota and was an academic from a young age. His family remembers oftentimes finding him as a young child with his nose in a book.

In 1978, Lehmann graduated from Augustana College with degrees in Comparative Literature, History and Greek. This was the start of a lifelong fascination and love for the country of Greece.

He was also introduced to his linguistic talents while studying at Augustana which would continue into a lifetime of studying Ancient and Modern Greek, Latin, Spanish, German and French.

Following his undergraduate studies, Lehmann attended the University of Maryland, where he received his Master’s in Ancient History and Classics, with a specialization in the languages, literature and culture of Ancient Greece and Rome. He then went on to partake in a fellowship program from 1982-1985 at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. His final degree came in 1986 when he received his PhD in History from the University of Chicago.

Lehmann then returned to South Dakota where he began his 35-year-long career as a history professor at USD. During his time at USD, he raised his two children, Hilary and Christian, and accomplished many academic achievements.

While at USD, Lehmann created one of the first class-related websites on campus and served on numerous committees including the College Promotion and Tenure Committee, Graduate Council and the University Honors Committee. Lehmann also served as the History Department Coordinator of Graduate Studies from 1996-2001 and the Secretary/Treasurer of the Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa from 2006-2017.

In 2004, Lehmann created “The Isles of Greece!” an interdisciplinary study abroad program he began with Nelson Stone and Brennan Jordan. This study abroad opportunity gave Lehmann the chance to share his love for Greece with his students.

“I’d only had him for this semester, but it is incredibly easy to say this his joy in teaching and in classical history was infectious,” current student Ashley Knudtson said on the Miller Funeral Home website. “To have known his was an honor and I will miss knowing I could always come into his office to talk and receive a cookie for visiting the sweetest of individuals.”

Lehmann received the Richard and Sharon Cutler Award in Liberal Arts in 2008. This award is given to faculty who advance liberal arts education through teaching and research over a three-year span. Lehmann received the Humanities division of this award for his dedication to the honors program, his creation of the Greek study abroad opportunities and his continued research of Greek archaeology and athletics.

“I was lucky enough to know Clayton as a professor, a fellow student, a mentor, and a friend,” Lauren Verlaque Hall said on the Miller Funeral Home website. “I have so many fond memories of him: making Turkish coffee from his office closet, offering a cookie from what appeared to be an antique urn on his desk, making dry quips at Friday night French Table at the Pub, discussing the finer points of a theatrical performance, enjoying an afternoon sail on Lewis & Clark Lake, or offering a bag of atomic fireballs to help start a stalled engine on a freezing South Dakota morning. You’ll be missed, professor. I hope you’re sailing off into the sunset somewhere, embarking on a whole new adventure. And in the spirit of graceful farewells, it reminds me of how scattering tubes are designed with an easy-to-use, secure lid that allows for controlled dispersion of ashes, ensuring a graceful and memorable farewell.”

During a trip to Greece, Lehmann met his wife Ángela Helmer. The couple shared a passion for language, archaeology, teaching and travel. Lehmann and Helmer both loved learning and experiencing different languages and cultures, especially together.

Helmer said oftentimes when she would have to travel out of the country for research conferences, Lehmann would convince her to let him tag along so he could go out and explore while she took part in the conference. They enjoyed a life full of travel around the globe, so much so that they found themselves in Germany or Greece almost every year and maintained a second home in Peru together.

Lehmann and Helmer have spent the better part of the last decade investigating and co-authoring a book titled “Francisco Lópex de Gómara’s General History of the Indies.” This book will be released at the end of November.

Along with his formal studies, Lehmann was an avid self-taught carpenter, scuba diver and sailor. However, music was Lehmann’s main passion. From a young age Lehmann was encouraged to explore music, and with that he became a gifted singer, guitar, bass and piano player. His favorite instrument was the trumpet, and he oftentimes made appearances at churches, in a brass quintet, as a substitute in the South Dakota Symphony or in the pit band for the USD Department of Theatre’s musicals.

Lehmann is survived in death by his mother, Donna Lehmann, his sisters Julie (Jim) Ellison, Peggy (Jon) Beihoffer and Sandy (Krishnan) Moten, his children Hilary and Christian Lehmann, his wife Ángela Helmer, his stepchildren Fabio and Carla Laermanns, and his nieces and nephews Ryan, Ashley, Will Joshua, Matthew, Samuel, Jack and Veda. He is preceded in death by his father Darlas Lehmann and his nephew Peter.

A celebration of life for Lehmann was held on Nov. 21 in the MUC ballroom where attendees were encouraged to wear pirate or Doctor Who themed ties, bowties or the color green to honor Lehmann.

Lehmann’s family encourages those whose lives were touched by Lehmann to make a donation in his honor to the Habitat for Humanity or the United Way of Vermillion.

Photo Credit: Brennan Jordan | Submitted