Marcella Rose Ryan LeBeau, Wígmuŋke Wašté Wíŋ (Pretty Rainbow Woman), of the Cheyenne River Oóhenuŋpa (Two Kettle) Lakota Nation was 102 years young when she started her journey to the star nation. She passed away on November 21, 2021, in Eagle Butte, South Dakota surrounded by family. Funeral services for Marcella will be at 10 AM, Saturday, November 27, 2021, at the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School Auditorium. Burial will be at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cemetery in Promise under the direction of Kesling Funeral Home of Mobridge. Visitation will start at 5 PM Friday with a prayer service at 7 PM.
Marcella was born in Promise, SD on October 12, 1919, to Joseph M. and Florence (Four Bear) Ryan. Marcella was the second oldest of five children: Eugene, Johanna, Michael (Mike), and Leo. Marcella embraced caregiving at an early age. She took care of both of her mother and little brother Leo before they passed.
Her Grandmother Louise Bear Face passed her Lakota name onto Marcella. There were no ceremonies taking place in those days, Grandma Louise honored Marcella with a raspberry-colored shawl. Marcella’s grandmother passed away two years after Marcella’s mother. For the rest of her days, Marcella carried her Grandma’s Lakota name with pride. Her father, an Irish American, would tell her the Native people are the greatest people on earth though he couldn’t say the same for his own. Her father would say to his children “go get a good education because no one can take that away from you!”
Marcella’s father presented her mother’s sewing machine after she passed away, having said to Marcella, if she learned to sew, he would get all the fabric she needed. She became an avid sewer, learning how to piece together dresses, and clothes for all occasions.
Marcella and her siblings were sent to boarding school after her grandmother’s passing. She continued to understand the profound impact Indian Boarding Schools had on her and others. She encouraged the community to become aware and educated on historical trauma. Feeling as though she did not receive an adequate education at boarding school, Marcella enrolled in Nurse’s Training at Pierre, SD under the Benedictine sisters.
At the age of 23, and having no prior intention to do so, Marcella enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps. During World War II, she served in England, France, and Belgium. Her grace under adverse conditions and humility are evidenced in her stories. Having saved more lives than she would have ever known, she was one never to boast. Marcella received the American Campaign Medal, the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three battle stars for the Rhineland, Northern France, and Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge), the World War Victory Medal, and a Medal of Honor from the Belgium government. Marcella concluded her career in the Army as First Lieutenant. As she would say, “it was the greatest honor of my life to serve.”
Upon returning home from the war, she worked as an R.N. for 31 years until her retirement. In addition to her work in Public Health, she remained an advocate for better health her entire life. She served on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council from 1990-1994. Her anti-smoking efforts on the CRST Reservation are credited to becoming the first smoke-free community in South Dakota, perhaps the country. She participated in community outreach projects to promote healthy living. She believed our health to be a precious commodity, that was to be protected.
In 1947, she married Gilbert (Gib) LeBeau and together bore eight children: Daniel, Diane, Richard, Bonnie, Tom, Gerri, Kathy, and Donna. Marcella was proud of the family she raised. You could find her at nearly every sporting event or activity that her grandchildren pursued. She would say she was “best of all,” a grandma and great-grandma.
Marcella remained active in organizations and advocacy. She was particularly proud having been a co-founding member of the Native American Indian Women’s Association (NAIWA) and a founding member of NARP. Marcella assisted in the repatriation of a ceremonial Ghost Dance shirt stolen from a body at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. The shirt was repatriated from the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, Scotland. Marcella then became instrumental in the introduction of the Remove the Stain Act, Senate Bill 1073, requesting lawful action to rescind the 20 Medals of Honor from the U.S. Calvary who carried out bloodshed in the massacre at Wounded Knee.
In 2004, Marcella was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her service in World War II, the highest honor given by the French government. She was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2006. She was awarded the Women in History Award from the Spirit of the Prairie Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2016. She received an honorary doctorate degree from South Dakota State University in 2018. In 2020, the National Congress of the American Indian recognized her with a leadership award and USA Today named her as one of the most influential women of the century. On November 6, 2021, she was inducted into the National Native American Hall of Fame. Upon acceptance, she said, “the greatest honor that I can receive is from my own people. And I am here tonight being honored by my own people.”
Marcella is survived by daughter, Diane (Bob) Booth, Ridgeview; son, Tom LeBeau, Rapid City; daughters, Gerri LeBeau, Rapid City, Kathy (Nial High Hawk) LeBeau, and Donna (Allan S.) LeBeau, both of Eagle Butte; Cynthia Cleveland, Eagle Butte; grandchildren: Yvette Goesyon, Brandon (Erlyssa) LeBeau; LeAnn (Justin) Bennett, Sharon (Stan) Francis, Bethany (Justin) Nephew, Aaron LeBeau, Nathan LeBeau, Daniel (Melody) LeBeau; Brad Moran; Meghan and Morghan LeBeau; Lori (Greg) Flaitz; Robert Booth, Ben Booth; Bonnie LeBeau, Richard Ryan (Jerris Veaux) LeBeau, Ryman (Lesli White Dog) LeBeau; Heather LeBeau, Dawn E. LeBeau; Wyoma Waters; Nichol LeBeau, Johanna Farmer, Felicia Farmer, Mattea Farmer; Michelle LeBeau, Jade (Dre’mys Cook) LeBeau; Jacinda Lind, Lania (Tiger Condon) Lind; 46 Great-Grandchildren; and 4 Great-Great Grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Joseph and Florence Ryan; brothers Eugene, Mike, and Leo; sister Johanna; daughter Bonnie; sons Daniel and Richard; granddaughters Julia Shannon LeBeau and Marcella Booth; grandsons Faron and Emmitt LeBeau.