Greta White

Greta White Calfe, 92, of White Shield, passed away on October 3, 2023, at a hospital in Bismarck, ND. 

A Funeral Service will be held at 11:00 AM on Saturday, October 7, 2023, at the New Ralph Wells Community Center, White Shield, ND. Burial to follow at Nishu Congregational Cemetery.

Wake Services will begin at 6:00 PM on Friday, October 6, 2023, at the New Ralph Wells Community Center, White Shield, ND, with a Rosary at 7:00 PM.

Greta Martha (Young Bird) White Calfe, “Woman Who Teaches Childern” was born August 17, 1931, to Benjamin Young Bird and Jessie (Everett) Young Bird in Elbowoods, North Dakota. The fourth of thirteen children, with no older brothers, Greta assisted her father with all day-to-day tasks that were required for the successful operation of a cattle ranch. Greta took on the role of hired man for her father, gaining invaluable experience and knowledge to successful ranching. Greta and her father were extremely close as they worked together every day.

Her father, Ben Young Bird was the President of the Cattlemen’s Association.  During that time, many of the Arikara tribal members were also members of the Cattleman’s association and had large herds of cattle and horses. The ranchers would cut out the cattle they wanted to sell from their herd and all that cattle were gathered in one large group to take to the nearest train for shipment. 

Greta, the only female, would ride her horse “Power River” right alongside the men and boys as they drove the cattle along the banks of the Missouri River up to Elbowoods. The riders would herd the cattle across the Elbowoods Bridge and proceed on to Haliday, North Dakota where the cattle would be put on the train to South St. Paul, Minnesota for sale.

Though her upbringing was extremely difficult, Greta would look back fondly on her youth and all the experiences and lessons she learned. Often stating later in life that she never realized how poor her family was because all the other families were in similar situations –but her family had everything they needed. She and her siblings weren’t allowed to accept charity from the government or church because if they couldn’t work for something, they didn’t really need it. She carried those lessons and a similar belief in hard work and self-reliance with her till the end. Though she didn’t believe in accepting charity, she was an extremely giving person. Believing that her hard work and success was to provide for her family but also assisted others as often as possible. Never turning down a person in need, Greta chose to see the good in everyone. Her granddaughter Ariel remembers her always saying “If my loved one were in need, I would hope someone would help them, so if I can help someone I will.”

Education was a dream of Greta’s. After graduating from Elbowoods High School, she enrolled in Minot State College in Minot, North Dakota to obtain her Teachers Degree, which she did in 1951. She began her career as an educator at Ziegler School, a one room school located three miles south-west of White Shield, in the fall of 1951. Throughout the 50s’ she continued to work at multiple one room schoolhouses, also known as country schools, in McLean County. During her time working in country schools Greta was the teacher, for grades first through eighth. Her duties also included being the nurse, cook for the “hot lunch program”, as well as maintenance. While teaching at the O’Shea School, located two and a half miles from her home, Greta had to ride her horse Big-Enough, her iron-grey horse, to and from school cross country as no roads existed; she remembers one winter day it was approximately -30 degrees, she had so many layers of clothing on that she couldn’t get on her horse without the assistance of a parent.

Also In 1951, Greta married her long-time sweetheart Oscar White Calfe and together they moved approximately five miles away from her childhood home to the place she lived until the end. Oscar and Greta began their life together raising their cattle as well as cattle owned by Oscar’s parents and sister. Agriculture was always a major aspect of Greta’s personal life. In 1969, Oscar and Greta were awarded McLean County Soil Conservation’s Conservation Award for their tremendous efforts to establish a responsible grazing and growing plan on their land.

In 1956 Greta and Oscar welcomed daughter Verlee, their only biological child, into their lives. As such, Greta decided to take a break from teaching to focus on her family. In 1961, Greta accepted a position to teach fifth and sixth grades at the Cannon Ball School in Cannon Ball, North Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation. Greta and her dear friend Lena Malnourie would commute almost every weekend from their homes in the White Shield area to Cannon Ball and stay in the teacherage during the week. Greta’s class sizes were thirty or greater. During her decade working at the Cannon Ball School she made many lifelong friends.

Being away from her family was hard. Greta considered stepping away from teaching, once again, to return home full time. In 1971, Greta was brought on as an assistant teacher, of first and second grades at the White Shield School, at the request of her friend and mentor Mrs. Margaret Breauer, the first-grade teacher. Mrs. Breauer felt the first and second grade classes were too large for one teacher to adequately manage (47 in first grade) and saw it as an opportunity for Greta to move home full time; at the time, Mrs. Breauer was one of two Native educators employed at White Shield School. Once Mrs. Breauer retired, Greta became the full-time first grade teacher, which she remained until she retired in May 2005.

Greta always had a love for her students and often went above and beyond what was required of her to help them. In 1973, Greta became the volunteer coordinator for the Children Incorporated program for the White Shield students k-12, which is a program that provides financial assistance to students by sponsoring them in order to improve their educational experience and outlook on life; this she did for 32 years and put in countless hours of her personal time to keep the program running.

When Verlee and Frank (adopted) were in high school they became active in rodeo. As an opportunity to spend more time together, Greta and Oscar became active in rodeo as well. Greta barrel raced, breakaway roped, and team roped as well as became the first secretary for the Great Plains Indian Rodeo Association (GPIRA). Rodeo became a beloved pass time for the family, and together, they competed across much of the western half of the United States.

In 1983, Oscar lost his battle with terminal cancer, leaving Greta and their daughter Verlee to continue the ranch. Greta built her cattle herd up to approximately 300 pair by the mid-1990s when Three Affiliated Tribes Councilman Austin Gillette nominated her for the Farm & Ranch Guides’ Country Woman of the Year, for which Greta was runner up; competing against women from North and South Dakota as well as western Minnesota and eastern Montana. With the kids grown and Oscar gone, Greta no longer found the joy in rodeo she once had and decided to step away from it.

In the early 1990s, Greta and a few other passionate Sahnish, the Arikara’s word for themselves, educators within the school decided to begin working on a curriculum focused on the Sahnish people, so that they could help integrate culture into the classrooms. They created the Sahnish Cultural Society with this mission in mind, as well as a desire to educate the neighboring communities. Greta served as President of the organization from its foundation until she stepped down in 2019. During her time working with the Sahnish Cultural Society, Greta (as well as board members Lena Malnourie, Bonnie Fox and Ethan White Calfe) had the opportunity to speak about the Sahnish at many culturally rich locations including Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Fort Stevenson State Park, just to name a few.

Greta retired from teaching in 2005 to spend more quality time with her family and assist in raising her two youngest grandchildren, Ariel and Ethan. She continued to raise cattle, along with her daughter Verlee and grandson Ethan. Though she stepped down from the board of the Sahnish Cultural Society in January of 2019, she continued promoting her culture, through the creation of her hand-made Star Quilts.

Greta would speak very highly of her 53 years as an educator and remembered it fondly; believing that a good education is the foundation of a successful life, knowing she did her best to help each one of her students succeed. She loved looking back through photos of her classes and was touched when her former students stopped her in public to visit. Greta taught multiple generations to read and write and had such passion for it that her aunt Melvina Everett gave her the Indian name “Woman Who Teaches Children” for which she was incredibly proud to be called. She stated that her great love for teaching and children is one of the great joys of her life; second only to her family. She said that she has always lived her dreams, if she had it to do it all over again, she wouldn’t change a thing.

In her later years, Greta was cared for by her youngest (some might say favorite) grandchild, Ethan. Together, Greta and Ethan had so many great adventures and made so many incredible memories. A highlight for Greta was when Ethan took her to Italy to be present during the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Greta was impressed how she always managed to end up in the front of the crowd, traveling in a wheelchair much to the determent of many strangers’ feet.

On October 3, 2023, Greta passed peacefully, surrounded by her family, into the next world. She will be greatly missed by many. Her kind and loving soul is at rest.

Greta is survived by her Daughter, Verlee White Calfe-Sayler; Son-in-law, Kenny; Grandchildren, Joshua, Jacob, Ariel, and Ethan; Son (adopted) Frank Whitecalf; Daughter-in-law, Donalda; Their children, Justin, Garrett, and Tyler; Special Nephew, JD Young Bird; His wife, Patti; Their children, Sadie, Jimmy, and Callie; Special Niece, Lori Rosales; Her husband, Martin; Their children, BJ, Rigo, Chantel, Chacho, and Jose. Sister, Marilyn Young Bird; Brother, Joseph Young Bird; Brother, Felix Young Bird; Sister, Sara Young Bird; and too many beloved nieces and nephews and extended family to list.

Greta is welcomed home by her husband, Oscar White Calfe; Her parents, Ben and Jessie Young Bird; Siblings, Margie Young Bird, Maggie Yellowbird, Pliga (Elizabeth) Bordeaux, Teresa Danks, Delphine Hall, Jimmy Young Bird, Laverne Pfliger, and Hans Young Bird.

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