Plymouth Park Namesake Clifton E. French: Who Was He?
By Ella Vincent
You may know French Regional Park as one of Plymouth’s favorite spots for biking, boating, hiking, fishing, swimming and a variety of outdoor activities. You may not know that the park is not named for any particular Parisian influence but was named after longtime public servant Clifton E. French. But, who exactly was Clifton E. French?
Parks & Recreation Groundbreaker
Clifton E. French was a Minnesota trailblazer. In 1948, French was one of the first students to ever receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Recreation Leadership from the University of Minnesota. He was the first ever recreation director for the City of Edina and would later become the first ever superintendent for the Hennepin County Park Reserve District (now known as Three Rivers Park District).
Decorated Public Servant & Award Winner
Undoubtedly a dedicated and talented civic servant, for twenty-one years French served as the Hennepin County Park Reserve District’s Superintendent. Through him, the park system grew from 400 acres to more than 24,000 acres. It became one of the largest regional park systems in the United States. He was also a member of the Minneapolis Rotary Club, the YMCA, the Minnesota Recreation & Parks Association, the University of Minnesota Alumni Association, and the American Youth Hostel Association.
Clifton E. French is recognized both locally and nationally for his achievements and leadership. When he retired in 1984, Medicine Lake Regional Park was renamed the Clifton E. French Regional Park in his honor. Later in April 2003, he received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development. In September 2005, French was presented with the Pugsley Medal for Extraordinary Leadership from the National Recreation & Parks Association.
Dedicated Family Man
For 62 years, French was married to his wife, Joanne. Together, they raised many children and enjoyed many grandchildren. He relished bringing his children and grandchildren to many parks throughout the country, but none perhaps are as special to the family as his namesake park in Plymouth, Minnesota. As such, it seemed fitting that at his death in 2006, a celebration of his life was held at French Regional Park, a place made possible by Clifton’s efforts and a place to be enjoyed by many generations to come.