Greetings and a final farewell

It is strange the twists and turns our life journeys take us on. I have been reflecting these past few weeks about my time here at St. Joseph’s Indian School and about the impact the students made upon my life. I was thinking of one particular student I used as an example of going above and beyond what is asked of any of us. For many years, I used her as an example of her selfless action to help another in need in several of my classes.

Years ago, when this girl was in sixth grade, she had beautiful long hair and was very proud of it. One day she heard about a woman undergoing chemo therapy and was losing her hair and was in need of a wig. My student had her head shaved and donated all of her hair to help make a wig for this woman dealing with cancer. This past Friday, after several years of not seeing her, I bumped into her at a store. We were so glad to see one another and I was amazed at what a beautiful young woman she had grown into. I spoke to her husband and related what she had done in my class and he said she was still a woman of conviction and great compassion. This young woman is a true example of one the success stories of St. Joseph’s Indian School.

I am so proud of all of the students I’ve worked with. They have touched me, and I hope I have also had an impact on them. Some of the eighth graders have commented that we have known each other for eight years and, as they embark on a new journey, so shall I.

I have known my mentor match since first grade, when he hid in the closest of the classroom and would not speak to anyone but me! Now, he towers over me and is still growing (and I am over six feet in height!).

I will miss each student here and I thank each one for allowing me into their lives and trusting me with their stories of growing up Lakota. What an honor I have been bestowed with.

To all, I wish you peace and joy each day of your lives. Never stop dreaming and make those dreams become reality. I have always lived my life so there would never be any “should of, could of, would of…” and never stop believing, as Anne Frank said, “In the goodness of people.”

God bless,

Donor luncheon on the East Coast

Errol and Kyran, two of our high school students and I returned this evening from a couple of donor appreciation luncheons in Concord, New Hampshire and Portland, Maine. I was the one who felt appreciated as we ran into so many people delighted to be with us and meet students and staff. Many have been long time supporters of St. Joseph’s, but this was the first chance they had to meet any of us. One donor from New Hampshire presented me with a hand carved walking stick made from white birch, the state tree. It is almost 5 feet tall and thicker than I can wrap my hand around. As I left the luncheon someone looked at me and quipped, “Do you walk softly?”

We were graced by the presence of Shea Keck, an internationally known Native American performing artist. She is from the Eastern Band Cherokee from North Carolina, and led off the luncheons by singing Amazing Grace in both Cherokee and English. She has a soft spot in her heart for Native American children’s issues, and we were meeting to arrange a visit to the school. She remembers her grandmother giving to St. Joseph’s and said her journey has brought her full circle.

In Concord, we visited the Alan Shepherd/Christa McAuliffe Discovery Center, and took in a movie about Black Holes in the Planetarium. As a good museum should, it tricked us into learning something about science by making it fun. Our houseparent and chaperone Frank, who grew up on a farm, marveled at the thickness and durability of the rubber on the Space shuttle tire. Frank has been a houseparent for 25 years and reflected on the changes and improvements he has seen over the years. We constantly look for ways to improve, but it was encouraging to hear his perspective of how we have strengthened our team approach to child services.

Since New Hampshire is known for it’s dairy farms, several people told us a must-visit spot on our tour of the area was Johnson’s Dairy Bar for ice cream. They suggested I try the “kiddie-sized scoop,” which was as big as a soft ball. With chocolate chips and cherries, the Maine Black Bear flavor definitely lived up to the locals’ rave reviews.

I always imagined Maine as being a small state, but several people who live up north in “The County” drove three, four and even seven hours to join us in Portland. A few people spoke of a long association with St. Joseph’s Indian School through their parents or grandparents, and carry on a tradition of giving in their memory.

Though the weather was cold and blustery, we couldn’t come all the way to the East Coast without letting our students get their feet wet in the ocean. Fort Williams State Park holds a scenic and famous lighthouse, with a commission all the way back to George Washington. Our crew was captivated by the rocky beaches and tankers pulled by tug boats going by. Then we strolled around the waterfront in downtown Portland, where the boys bought a few souvenirs and mementos. We tried some of the local seafood specialties, and I had my first Whoopie Pie.

Rec Center activities

Our last Enrichment night before spring break with the Afra and Dennis Homes (first through third-grade girls) was filled with the sound of the bat hitting the ball. We were inside playing whiffleball!

First, we had the girls throw and catch to warm up and improve those skills. Then, we played a game of whiffleball. The girls really were hustling and the score was close all the way to the end! Thanks to Sherry, Christine, Peter and Mike for all their help and cheering.

The boys from the Rooney and Speyer Homes (sixth through eighth-grade boys) tried their hand at a Hot Shot contest, which is a basketball shooting game. The first two rounds were one minute long and the top six shooters from each home played a third round of 30 seconds.

The Championship Round came down to Kyle and Jeremy, who each won a prize as the top shooters from their homes. After 1 minute and 30 seconds of shooting, Jeremy finished on top 30 – 18. Many thanks to Nate and Tony for keeping score, Mark for keeping the clock and Brian and Sue for cheering the boys to do their best!

Next week, when everyone is back from spring break, we will get back in the swing of Enrichment night. Hopefully, we will be outside playing t-ball and softball!

Mark and Andy

St. Joseph’s Indian School’s spelling bee

Fr. Steve and the kids participating in the Spelling Bee.
The Spelling Bee was challenging, but a lot of fun for everyone!

Our school gym was filled with our Native American students competing in the annual Spelling Bee. We have two sections of each grade, so earlier competition produced the three best spellers in each class. Fr. Anthony and I were the official word readers, and alternated between the grades. Spelling Bees tend to throw in some obscure and complicated words, some of which I had no clue what they meant or how to pronounce them. I was glad that Scripps sends along a definition and pronunciation guide. A few of the grades were quickly decided, but some went back and forth for many rounds. I felt sorry for the kids who knew how to spell the words but froze up in front of the crowd. A few of the younger students got a case of the giggles, which made it hard for them to concentrate. We cheered everyone on, win or lose. The winners now advance to the regional competition at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.

I wandered around St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus this morning checking out our building projects. Workers placed the 65 foot wooden beam on top of the Akta Lakota Museum expansion. Our own facilities crew is making steady progress on the Stevens and Matthias Home remodeling. One home is ready for the ceramic tiles to be laid in the bathroom and kitchen area. Even our heavy equipment garage is getting an upgrade – finally insulated after all these years. It will make it much easier to get the snow plow and tractor fired up on frigid mornings when they are most needed.

The Hogebach Home (high school girls) eat in shifts because everyone gets home from school, practice and work at different times. The houseparents filled me in on their comings and goings. As the students came home, I had a few moments to ask how each one was doing. Some of the students share readily and talk about many things. Others keep more to themselves. I try to engage them in topics I think they might want to share, listen attentively when they do speak and patiently accept the quiet when they don’t feel like saying much.