May Howard Baker Coffey, (Garden skanihaa), 91, passed from this world into God's loving arms on Nov. 30, 2012, at 3:27 p.m., surrounded by her loving family while praying the Blessed Rosary.
May was born Feb. 6, 1921, in Buffalo Rock to Letha Wilde and George Howard Sr.; she was delivered at home by her father. May had a seventh grade education, which belied her intelligence; she said her children could never "pull the wool over my eyes." At age 91, her mind was alert. She could always be found sitting in her recliner with a "Circle the Word" book and a bowl of Circus peanuts by her side.
May became an adult and responsible at an early age; she kept house for her nine brothers in the Niishu and Elbowoods communities while barely a teenager. She spoke often of that time and how she cooked and washed clothes for her brothers. She still marveled at the idea she could turn on a tap and get hot water. Her home was always a lively place, she said often, "I came from a large family and I had a large family." She had 12 children and was always proud that she raised all plus two grandchildren to adulthood. Garden was educated in Elbowoods and later in Cleveland, Tenn., where she learned to play the piano.
She had a strong belief in the Lord; at age seven she completely lost her eyesight. Her mother Letha took her south for healing and through faith and prayer May recovered.
In her early life she followed the Episcopal faith and was baptized into that faith by Vine Deloria Sr. Although she raised all her children as Catholic, May converted to Catholicism at a later age. She was received into the Church on June 12, 2009, confirmed and received her first communion from Father Stephen Kranz. At confirmation she was given the name Takawitha by Father Steve.
May followed her traditional ways and was a member of the New Town chapter of the Native American Church. Her home was always open to the singers for their practice. She was a member of the Awahu Band of the Arikara, a descendant of the Bear medicine society of the Ree Medicine Lodge and also descended from the Mandan Alkalai Lodge clan.
She was introduced to her first husband, Adrian Baker, by her brother, George Howard, at age 15; five daughters and one son blessed this union. During World War II both she and Adrian served the war effort; she as a "Rosie the Riveter" in Seattle, Wash., and Adrian in the Army.
Following Adrian's death, she raised her children in Elbowoods and she later married Pete Coffey Sr. with two sons and four daughters blessing that union. When Elbowoods was flooded, she and Pete moved to South Dakota to find work. Always a hard worker, May worked as a Special Deputy Officer for female inmates at Crow Creek Indian Nation in South Dakota and as a cook for the jail. She worked as a cook at the school in Lower Brule, S.D., and was very proud of being the first cook at the new school.
On retiring, she and Pete returned home and lived in Twin Buttes, where she worked as a CHR. They moved to White Shield and in their later years moved to Parshall.
On May 6, 2007, she was invested as an Oblate Novice of St. Benedict for Assumption Abbey in Richardton. Garden was a (lifetime) Royal member of Clarence Spotted Wolf, John Irwin, Jr. Ladies Auxiliary Unit 300.
For many years she volunteered at the Three Tribes Museum and served as unofficial granny to all who visited there.
She wanted all her family and grandchildren to have their Indian names. She always thought of the names herself. She also adopted Dr. Margaret Nordell and gave her the name of "White Mother" or utna dagah because she delivered so many Indian babies.
May is survived by: her children Avis Mayer, Frances Baker, Glenda Baker Embry, Ardel Baker, G. Russell Gillette, Barbara Roy, Aurelia Gillette, Florence Brady, Grace Gillette, Pete Coffey Jr., James Jandreau, Judith Coffey Brady, Mary Coffey and Jeanette Coffey, 58 grandchildren, 117 great-grandchildren, 22 great-great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.
Preceding her in death were her parents; both of her husbands; all her siblings; sons, Bion Baker and Randall Coffey; and daughters, Melissa Boepple, Susann Coffey, Thana Gillette, Shirley Gillette and Sylvia Gillette.
Funeral: Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, at 10 a.m., in St. Bridget Catholic Church, Parshall.
Wake: Wednesday, Dec. 5, beginning at 5 p.m., in the Parshall City Auditorium.
Interment: Immaculate Conception Cemetery, rural White Shield.
Online condolences may be shared at (www.langhansfuneralhome.com).
(Langhans Funeral Home, Parshall)