Iola Winifred Lobehan Bill was also known as "Grandma Iola," a title well-earned as the oldest member of the Muckleshoot Tribe. Mrs. Bill was a tribal...
Iola Winifred Lobehan Bill was also known as “Grandma Iola,” a title well-earned as the oldest member of the Muckleshoot Tribe.
Mrs. Bill was a tribal elder known for her laughter and her love of dance, whether it was teaching others traditional Indian paddle dances or kicking up her heels to the Elvis impersonators who entertain at the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn.
Mrs. Bill was 89 when she died Sept. 29 after spending the evening surrounded by loved ones listening to a live band at the casino earlier that night. She died of natural causes at her home on the Muckleshoot reservation, near where she was born on Aug. 18, 1916.
“She had a kind heart and a strong will,” said Willard Bill of Seattle, the oldest of Mrs. Bill’s three children. Even after a stroke slowed her down several years ago, his mother refused to leave her home and the land she loved, he said.
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The tribe closed its offices Tuesday in honor of Mrs. Bill’s memorial service, which was attended by more than 400 people. She will be remembered for her good nature and willingness to help others, said daughter Lynn Davis of The Dalles, Ore.
“She couldn’t say no to a stray animal or a stray person,” Davis said. “If they needed a place, she had a place; if they were hungry, she fed them. And people were always bringing her gifts. If it was fishing season, here came the salmon. If it was berry season, here came the berries. She gave, but she got twice back in return.”
Mrs. Bill grew up on the reservation speaking the Muckleshoots’ native language, known as Whulshootseed, but she was educated at a boarding school in Salem, Ore. That’s where she met the man she would marry in 1937, Lyman Willard Bill, who was also an Indian attending the boarding school, said Willard Bill.
The couple had three children, including Claran Kay Spencer, who died in 2003. Lyman Bill died in 1965. Mrs. Bill is survived by her son and daughter, 11 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
When Mrs. Bill’s children were younger, the family attended tribal functions and activities, and would sometimes travel to different reservations to watch their father play on a tribal baseball team, Davis said.
Mrs. Bill also worked for Boeing for more than 20 years as a clerk in the tool shop, Davis said. She was a hard worker who survived numerous layoffs without ever getting a pink slip, Willard Bill said.
Mrs. Bill’s mother was a medicine woman, and while Mrs. Bill didn’t follow in her footsteps, she did have a knowledge of herbs and enjoyed tending her flourishing garden, Davis said.
In 2003, Mrs. Bill was honored as “Skopapsch Kiyah,” which is its phonetic spelling. The title of royalty is awarded to an elder woman at an annual tribal powwow. The beaded crown she wore as a “Kiyah” was one of her prized possessions, Davis said.
“One night I was sitting with her, and she turned to me and said, ‘I’ve done everything now, I’m happy. I made Skopapsch Grandma,’ ” Davis said.
Mrs. Bill frequented the Muckleshoot Senior Center, where she ate lunch and participated in arts and crafts. Leah Moses, 64, a tribal elder, remembers Mrs. Bill went on many of the trips organized through the center. Mrs. Bill was always involved in something, whether it was going to pick huckleberries or overnight trips to visit tribes in surrounding states, Moses said.
In accordance with tribal tradition, all pictures of Mrs. Bill that had been on the senior center’s walls have been taken down for a yearlong period of mourning, said Bena Williams, 81, a tribal elder who knew Mrs. Bill.
“Next year at this time, we will take them out and hang them back up,” Williams said.
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or firstname.lastname@example.org