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Alverda May (Bagola) Zephier

Alverda May (Bagola) Zephier passed into the Spirit World on Tuesday November 2, 2021 in Aberdeen, SD.

Alverda was born on May 16, 1933 in Dupree, SD. She is a proud Mnincoju Lakota woman, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Alverda’s parents were Whitley Bagola (1902-1949) and Mary Mollie (Scar Leg) Bagola (1900 – 1987) of Dupree and Thunder Butte, SD. Alverda was raised on the family’s land at Scar Leg Crossing east of Thunder Butte, along the Owl River, where her father Whitley raised cattle and horses. Whitley passed away suddenly in 1949, while Alverda was 16, and she missed him dearly for the rest of her life. Alverda’s maternal grandparents were Mato Niyanpi/Joseph Scar Leg (1849-1933) and First Woman (1847-1920). Her paternal grandparents were George Bagola and Laura (Face) Bagola of Green Grass, SD.  Alverda’s maternal grandfather Mato Niyanpi (Saved By Bear)/Joseph Scar Leg died in 1933, three months before Alverda’s birth. Mato Niyanpi was the proud Mnincoju Lakota warrior who performed the spiritual duty to confront, then defeat, Custer on Last Stand Hill at the Greasy Grass Battle at the Little Bighorn in Montana on June 25, 1876. Alverda’s sons, Harley, Jr. and Robin, would later write the book entitled “Warrior Is” (2017) which is the life story of Mato Niyanpi and which refers to Alverda throughout.

Alverda loved animals of all kind, and especially horses and eagles (wanbli). She had a favorite horse when she was a young girl named Silver King. Alverda attended school at the Old Cheyenne Agency where she had many friends, and where she was active in athletics including basketball, track, riding events and parades, and dance. This is where she would obtain the nickname “Boogie”, as Alverda loved to dance, and she loved Elvis Presley.

The Bagolas moved to Thunder Butte in the 1930’s and stayed there until shortly after Whitley’s sudden death in 1949, and Mary lost much of the livestock and land, and they then moved into Dupree in the early 1950’s. Alverda had a first marriage which ended in 1953. Linda Mary and Loren Whitley were born. Alverda then met and fell in love with a young Dakota athlete named Harley Dean Zephier in Dupree, SD in 1954. The couple was then married by a justice of the peace in Pierre, SD on February 9, 1956. Soon thereafter, Harley Lee Zephier, Jr. was born in November 1956 when Alverda and Harley lived in Dupree. Harley Zephier, Sr. then received a college basketball scholarship and moved the family to Yankton, SD in 1957. Whitley Zephier was born in 1959, and then Robin Leonard Zephier in 1961.

The Zephier family then moved to Columbia, SD in 1962 when Harley, Sr. became a teacher and coach at Columbia High School from 1962 to 1963. The Columbia Comets went to their first ever SD high school state basketball tournament in 1963 with Harley, Sr. as coach. From there, the Zephiers moved to Lyons, SD for another teaching and coaching job for Harley, Sr.. Darin Todd Zephier was born in Dell Rapids, SD in 1964. In 1966, the family then moved to South Sioux City, Nebraska as a result of Harley, Sr. receiving a position with the Indian Health Service in Winnebago, Nebraska. Lanni Rae Zephier was born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1968. Both Harley, Sr. and Alverda became active in the South Sioux City Episcopal Church. From there, Harley, Sr. was hired as the Service Unit Director at the Pine Ridge Hospital, so the Zephier family moved to Pine Ridge, SD in 1969. After four years in Pine Ridge, the Zephiers moved to Mellette, SD in 1973 after Harley, Sr. was hired as a senior administrator with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Aberdeen, SD. One year later in 1974, the family moved to Aberdeen, SD, where Harley, Sr. and Alverda stayed for approximately 47 years (but for 1979 to 1982). This is where they resided to the present.

Alverda shared her ever-enduring love and life with the family she so greatly cherished. She is survived by her loving husband of 65 years, Harley Dean Zephier, Sr. of Aberdeen, SD. She is also survived by her children: daughter Linda Montana of Minneapolis, MN; son Loren Whitley Zephier of Eagle Butte, SD; son Harley L. Zephier, Jr. of Thunder Butte, SD; daughter Whitley Zephier (David Stone) of Phoenix, AZ; son Robin L. (Patti) Zephier of Rapid City, SD; son Darin T. Zephier of San Angelo, TX; daughter Lanni R. Zephier Smith (Lance) of Aberdeen, SD; Her grandchildren: Jared (Stephany) Zephier of Maple Grove, MN; Derek (Britnie) Zephier of Clarissa, MN; Dannielle Zephier of Eagle Butte, SD; Charlie Bercier of N.D.; Mercury Smith of Aberdeen, SD; Ian Montana of MN; Molly Montana of MN; Alverda also had numerous great grandchildren: Reese Zephier, Taya Zephier, Sage and Bentley Zephier, Chance Zephier, Brynn Zephier, Myles Zephier, Dawson Zephier, Madison Arendt, Mia McGrane, Colt and Sophie, Mahto, and Gabriel Bercier. Her Bagola nieces and nephews, Myron, Marian, Loren, Raylene, and Renee.

Alverda was preceded in death by her parents Whitley and Mary (Scar Leg) Bagola of Dupree/Thunder Butte, SD; her grandparents First Woman and Mato Niyanpi/Joseph Scar Leg of Thunder Butte, SD, and George and Laura (Face) Bagola of Green Grass, SD; her brothers Llewellyn Bagola of Cherry Creek, SD, Sam Eaglestaff of Eagle Butte, SD, Estherlene Low Dog of Dupree, SD, her nephews Byron and Llewellyn Bagola, Jr., and by her granddaughter Sage Montana of Wisconsin. 

Alverda was always fulfilled by Family. Everything she did, dreamed and pursued, was to try to better the lives and happiness of her seven children and husband. Alverda’s love of her family was the most significant aspect of her life until the end of her physical time on Grandmother Earth. She considered herself always as a Domestic Engineer by proud designation. She obtained her High School GED in 1972 and various college credits thereafter. Alverda aspired to become a teacher as a teen, which in fact she fulfilled many times over through her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends.  Alverda participated in the South Dakota Film Festival’s 20th Anniversary event for Dances With Wolves, in Aberdeen in 2009, which was co-produced by her daughter Whitley. She proudly danced on stage with her grandson Mercury to the sound of the Lakota drumbeats. She loved the color Purple, the sacred He Sapa, rummage sales, picnics, dragonflies, the penny machines, turtles, powwows, Hen N’ Chicks, her garden and plants, the Lakers and Kobe, warm quilts, and watching all of her family’s activities and accomplishments. She was a believer and follower of the natural Indigenous/Native American/Lakota way of life and spirituality. She was a founding member of the Native American Cultural Center and Museum in Aberdeen. The Circle of Life and the connectiveness of all things on Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth), was the origin of and the sound foundation of all things, based upon the Creator’s ways and the good in all things and the good in all people. Much like the Buffalo Nation, the Lakota embrace the notion that when one follows the way of the Creator, that rather than run away from or cower from the approaching storm, the Lakota, like their relatives the Buffalo Nation (Tatanka), will rise, then stand, then face, then walk forward into the approaching storm with the strength of one’s Spirit.

Alverda’s story and her long term battle with illness, came to a peaceful and calm passing from the physical world on Tuesday November 2, 2021 in Aberdeen, surrounded by her family, physically and spiritually. We give thanks to the Creator and Wakan Tanka for gifting Alverda to us all for all of the years that she showed us how to love, how to give, how to protect, how to smile and how to teach. Her outward and inner beauty were equaled by her strength of Spirit and her strong yearning to one day, be reunited with her loving parents Mary and Whitley Bagola and her grandparents, brothers, relatives, ancestors, and all of her beloved animals throughout time, including her Silver King. Now she is free from pain, suffering, illness, and turmoil. Alverda is now free to journey her way Home along the Milky Way (Trail of Spirits) and to the place of her and our ancestors. She will whistle for her Silver King, and he will come galloping toward her, across the green grass and sunshine, where Alverda can once again climb upon his tall, trusted and familiar back, and they will ride once more to the West, and into and within the beginning and end of all of the times, the dreams and the imagination of all that is good and spiritually beautiful. 

We love you, Mom, Alverda. We will see you one day soon when we each will come to celebrate together at the spiritual gathering that you will lovingly plan and host for us all. Until such time, wrap yourself in the Spiritual Quilt that was made just for you to protect you from harm and to forever remind you that you are loved and cherished by many, by Dad, and by all of your Family and friends.

The Family has held a private prayer ceremony and arrangements for Alverda, and a future memorial will be held in the future according to Lakota tradition. Any contributions we ask be given to any person or family or animal care entity in need, to try to make their lives and survival better, or plant a tree in her honor.

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