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Cheyenne River celebrates the life of Marcella Rose Ryan LeBeau (1919-2021)


Funeral services for First Lieutenant Marcella Rose Ryan LeBeau, Wígmuŋke Wašté Wíŋ (Pretty Rainbow Woman) of the Cheyenne River Oóhenuŋpa (Two Kettle) Lakota Nation, aged 102, took place on Saturday, November 27, in the auditorium of the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School.

Mother Ellen Huber and Rev. Kurt Huber from the Cheyenne River Episcopal Mission officiated at the wake and funeral services, assisted by Kesling Funeral Home.

Moving wake service for a veteran and tribal leader

The celebration of her life began with a wake service on Friday night beginning at five o’clock. Approximately 75-80 people attended the wake, coming in and out throughout the evening.

The wake began with the posting of the colors, followed by singing by Carol Traversie. The traditional Lakota singing group Palani Wakpa Okolakiciye, from Little Eagle on the Standing Rock reservation, also performed.

The drum group Wakinyan Maza played at both the wake and the funeral.

Bob Walters spoke about Marcella’s service as a council representative on behalf of CRST Tribal Council. He lovingly told about receiving voice mail messages from Marcella. All she said was, “Bob, it’s Marcella. Call me back.” He knew she had something she wanted to tell him.

Richard Charging Eagle sang and Virgil Taken Alive spoke about Marcella’s military service. 

After remembances, storytelling, and prayer songs concluded around 10 p.m., members of the family kept vigil with the body throughout the night.

The next morning Bryce In The Woods read a proclamation from National American Indian Veterans on behalf of National Commander Don Loudner, which praised her as “a true north star to all American Indians and Alaska Native veterans, all Indian Country, and the United States of America. Her service to country and our veteran community serves as a guide for all veterans who will follow in her moccasins.”

The wake came to a heart-wrenching close on Saturday morning with a moving Last Roll Call from the members of American Legion Post 308, of which Marcella was a lifelong member.

Newly-elected and not yet confirmed Post Commander Brett Curry called out the names of the eighteen veterans in attendance, including some of Marcella’s relatives. Each answered with a loud, “Here, Sir!”

Then Curry called out the name, “Marcella LeBeau.” Silence.

“Marcella Rose LeBeau.” Further silence.

“First Lieutenant Marcella Rose LeBeau.” More silence.

Then a voice from the crowd called out, “First Lieutenant Marcella Rose Ryan LeBeau, United States Army Nurse Corps, is no longer here, Sir. She has departed to a Higher Command.” 

Sobs broke out throughout the room.

Curry called the Honor Guard to attention to present arms. Taps played, and the Honor Guard passed in review of the coffin with salutes as a last honor to a fallen comrade.

At the end of the wake, Mother Ellen thanked everyone for their prayers and beautiful singing on behalf of the family. She transitioned the gathering from the sadness of losing Marcella into a celebration of her life with a prayer.

We commend Marcella to God, as she journeys beyond our sight. God of all consolation, in your unending love and mercy You turn the darkness of death into the dawn of new light. Gracious God, receive Marcella into your Heavenly dwelling. Let her heart and soul now sing out to you, God of the living and the dead. This we ask through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God of mercy and love, we ask you to be close to the children and youth of this family, whose lives have been changed by sorrow at the loss of Marcella. Give them all they need to grow, the courage to face their loss, and comfort them with your unchanging love. Amen.

May God’s love and help remain with us always, and may Marcella and all the faithful departed rest forever in peace. Amen.

The wake closed with boxed meals and drinks offered to all in attendance. The food was prepared by the members of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Promise, Marcella’s home town. In fact, the family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the St. Mary’s Building Repair Fund at the State Bank of Eagle Butte.

Funeral celebrates and extraordinary life with an emphasis on family

The wake included a public viewing, but after a break the family had a private viewing and closed the coffin.

The funeral began around 10 a.m. with approximately 150 people in attendance. Wakinyan Maza played during the procession. Then Mother Ellen once again gathered the community in prayer.

O, God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day, our sister Marcella. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life; so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth; until by Your call we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Following the opening prayer, Shirley Dog Eagle, Valerie Curley, and Carol Traversie came forward to sing “Amazing Grace” in Lakota. Mother Ellen joined in at the last minute.

Then Shirley Dog Eagle read from the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament:

“The ones who belong to the ways of this world do not know the Giver of Life, so they do not see us in this way. Much-loved friends, we are now Creator’s children. It is not yet clear what we will be, but we know that when the Chosen One appears we will be like Him, for we will see Him as he truly is.”

Valerie Curley followed with a reading from Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and Gabrielle Knife sang a gorgeous prayer song in Lakota. 

Sharon Walden, Marcella’s niece, was the next speaker. She opened her comments with a story about the death of Marcella’s Lakota mother, Florence Four Bear Ryan, in 1929 when Marcella was only ten years old. Marcella and her siblings were told not to cry.

Walden said, “She held back the unimaginable grief and tears. Well today, we can cry. And today, we can grieve.” 

Johanna Farmer (Tawíyukcaŋ Wašté Wiŋ, Good Thinker Woman), granddaughter of Marcella, followed with the formal eulogy.

She reflected on how odd it was to discover that her unci was a hero to many, when for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren she was, “…Mom, Grandma, Auntie.”

Farmer’s personal memories included, “She made the best gravy for holiday meals. She vacuumed around us when we slept in. She scolded us if we were drinking pop. She gave us pajamas when we ‘forgot’ to bring them when we visited. She encouraged us to get an education. She checked to make sure we were wearing an undershirt in the winter even if she had really cold hands.

“She gave hugs which were the longest or real-ist (as our brother Aaron said). Our sister Marc would say Unci gave us hugs in proportion to the amount Unci thought we needed it. She would joke with us about whether we knew what a pencil was when she felt we weren’t writing her enough letters.”

The service continued with more singing. Susie Payne sang a heart-lifting version of “The Rose.”

Aaron LeBeau, Marcella’ grandson, closed the service with a version of “Hallelujah.” Aaron rewrote the lyrics especially for Marcella. According to Mother Ellen, not long before her death, Marcella video-chatted with Aaron and specifically asked him to sing at her funeral. He and his family travelled from the Seneca Lake area of New York for the funeral.

Aaron’s performance brought down the house and was an amazing tribute to this remarkable ancestor.

As the pall-bearers bore the body out of the auditorium, Wakinyan Maza played. After the ceremony, special friends were thanked with the gift of star quilts.

Editor’s note: Please see the obituary for Marcella elsewhere in this newspaper. Our coverage of the life of Marcella Rose LeBeau will continue next week and will include the full text of the NAIV proclamation, Walden’s comments and Farmer’s eulogy.

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