Mentorship Moment: Harold Bengsch and Clay Goddard of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department

In 1996, Clay Goddard joined the Springfield–Greene County Health Department under its then-director, Harold Bengsch. Today Goddard is Director of Health, and Bengsch has announced his retirement. Goddard says he regards Bengsch as a mentor.

By Sony Hocklander

May 2020

Harold Bengsch and Clay Goddard Springfield MO
Photo courtesy Springfield-Greene County Health DepartmentHarold Bengsch and Clay Goddard have been colleagues and friends for more than two decades.

Biz 417:  How did the two of you meet for the first time? 
Clay Goddard:
In 1996 I was looking for an internship to complete my master’s [degree] in public administration. I interviewed with Kevin Gibson, who worked for Harold—director of health at the time—and shortly I was ushered into Harold's office and introduced. That was the beginning of a 24-year relationship.
Harold Bengsch: Kevin came into my office, and he said, “You know we’re looking for an intern that will help us out with our community health assessment. I think I found the person.” That’s when I first met Clay, and it just seemed like things clicked.

Biz: How did mentoring make a difference in your careers and in your lives? 
As a young man you have all the answers. But very quickly you get confronted with situations, [and] you realize you don’t have all the answers. [Harold] would let you learn some of those lessons on your own but would also be there to give advice when you didn’t know how to move forward. So he was a constant presence. He had the patience to answer questions [and] to give you input when you needed it. But then when you needed course correction, he would course correct as well.
HB: Clay needed very little course correction. What was so gratifying to me, Clay was learning the operations of public health, and not just the numbers. And he was very quick to understand that communication is critical in public health. Communication that is understandable, communication that is credible and communication that makes sense. And it was just a pleasure to see him develop that, because that’s not something you really get out of a textbook. You get it by experience. He was outstanding in that.

Biz: Describe what your relationship means to you.
CG: Harold is a man of integrity. He’s a man who has been mission-driven his entire life. He’s still making a difference in the community. What more admirable traits can you ask for in a role model? If I need a friend, if I need an ear or some advice, he’s always there willing to help, just a phone call away. 
HB: I’ll tell you what really impressed my wife early on. When I retired from the department of health, the day that I closed the door to the office, Clay was standing there, and he said, “Mind if I walk with you to your car?” And that brought tears to my eyes. It really did. And I said, “Clay, I would be honored.” And he walked with me to the car and he said, “Let me close the door.” And I said, “Well Clay, this does not close the door on our relationship.” He said, “That’s why I wanted to be the one that closes the door.” I told my wife about that when I got home. She started crying and said, “He is going to be special in our lives.” And he has been. She sure has a soft spot in her heart for him.

Biz: What moments makes you proud of  each other?
I hear people across the state in the field of public health constantly mentioning Clay Goddard. Now when that’s happening, you know that what he is saying and what he is doing is an example for others. And that’s what I see in Clay, and I’m so thrilled. He is an example of what modern day public health needs to be. He’s an amazing individual.
CG: Harold is getting ready to close another chapter, but he’s been with the health department for 45 years. And, you know, [the department is almost] 150 years old, so that’s nearly a third of the health department’s history. I really don’t view this as a retirement. He brings perspective historically that you can’t buy. I'm sitting in an office that he occupied. I’m in a building named after him. And I can plan on having that relationship continue going forward.