Angeline C. DeCorah, a founder of American Indian Center in Chicago, dies at age 91
BY KATIE DREWS August 19, 2012 7:14PM
Angeline C. DeCora
Updated: September 21, 2012 6:34AM
Few things were as peaceful and spiritual for Angeline C. DeCorah than the gentle waves of Lake Michigan at sunrise.
Nearly every morning, she would walk to the lakefront (collecting litter along the way) and sit quietly by the water in prayer.
“Everything was about nature for her,” said one of her sisters, Delia Maisells. “She saw life in every rock.”
Ms. DeCorah, an elder and founding member of the American Indian Center in Chicago, died Aug. 6 of cancer at The Waterford, the North Side nursing home that she had resided in the last few years, according to Maisells. She was 91.
“She personified the word elder in our traditional way in every aspect you could think of,” said Joe Podlasek, executive director at AIC. “She was always there to be a very supportive, positive thinker. She touched so many lives.”
A member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, Ms. DeCorah was a leader in Chicago’s Native American community and participated in a number of programs to help preserve her culture and pass down traditions to younger generations. She often worked with youth at an after-school program at AIC and had a special ability of connecting with the kids, according to friends and family.
“When she spoke, they would just be silent and listen to her,” said her friend, Nora Moore Lloyd.
“She was like a wise old female owl, which is smarter than a male owl,” said another friend, Susan K. Power.
Ms. DeCorah, who has been honored with several awards for her community leadership, represented the Native community and offered blessings in ceremonies for ex-Mayor Richard M. Daley. When the City of Chicago was vying to host the Olympics, Ms. DeCorah was one of the first people to greet the Olympic organizing committee upon its arrival in Chicago.
“They had a drum there and some dancers, and here is Angie, our favorite elder, to greet them as they walk into McCormick Place,” Lloyd said. “She was so humble about all of that. Her goal was to present the Indian community in the best possible light.”
Born June 30, 1921, Ms. DeCorah was a descendant of Glory of the Morning, the only known female chief of the Ho-Chunks, according to her family. She was one of nine kids and grew up in the Wisconsin Dells area.
“Her play time was all outdoors,” Maisells said. “I think that’s why to her dying day that Angie believed in nature so much.”
After attending Haskell Institute, an Indian school in Kansas, Ms. DeCorah moved to Chicago in 1942. She was a freelance commercial artist and worked as a typist for many years for A.C. McClurg & Co., a Chicago-based publisher. Later in life she took a night job at a photography lab specifically so she could have more free time during the day.
“She was like Thomas Edison — she only got three or four hours of sleep each night,” Power said.
Ms. DeCorah loved to travel abroad. She was always working and saving her earnings for her next trip overseas.
“Growing up in Wisconsin Dells, which used to be a visitor’s mecca, she’d hear these people speaking strange languages, and she was able to hear or learn where they were from,” Power said. “She vowed that someday she was going to see them — and she did, as many as she could.”
Known as a very independent woman, Ms. DeCorah, who never married, preferred to travel alone.
“The first time she went on a group trip, they were too slow for her and too dull,” Power said.
Ms. DeCorah was also a painter and a photographer, and she especially loved opera music. She had a knack for finding heart-shaped rocks and collected them, along with four-leaf clovers.
“Whenever we’d go to a park, she’d always find a patch of clovers,” Maisells said. “Angie always believed in four-leaf clovers, and she said there was a meaning for why God created them.”
A longtime resident of the North Side, Ms. DeCorah also enjoyed long walks around Chicago.
“I would always offer her a ride home, and she would say, ‘nope,’” Lloyd said. “She would walk miles around the city. It was her time for introspection and reflection.”
Aside from Maisells, Ms. DeCorah is survived by two sisters, Hazel Shegonee and Virginia Dixon.
Services have been held.