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Tselee Selected for 10th Annual AARP Indian Elder Honors

Mary Tselee with AARP Personnel

Mary Louise (Stevenson) Tselee (center) was one of the recipients of this year's AARP Indian Elder Honors. Pictured from left with Tselee is Mashell Sourjohn, AARP OK Associate State Director of Community Outreach (Muscogee Creek Nation citizen); JoAnn Vermillion, AARP OK State President; Mary Louise Tselee; Sarah Jennings, AARP Regional Vice-President; Joan Ruff, AARP Board Chair. (Photo courtesy of AARP)

One by one, the names and accomplishments of 50 Indian Elders were shared with an audience of more than 800 at AARP Oklahoma's 10th Annual Indian Elder Honors celebration at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, October 2, 2018. As the distinguished honorees were announced, they stood to applause, and a medallion was presented to each honoree.

AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl said, "This event celebrates a lifetime of service from these distinguished elders who have positively impacted their community, family, tribe and nation. Whether they are well-known or exhibit quiet devotion to family and community, this year's AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder honorees represent what is best about Native American people: love of family, dedication to culture and respect for all people."

Among the 50 Native elders recognized by AARP was Wichita tribal member Mary Louise (Stevenson) Tselee. Born in Lawton, Okla., she is the youngest child of Nuss and Elle (Lee) Stephenson. Her parents were both full-blooded members of the Wichita tribe, with Nuss being the last hereditary chief.

Tselee graduated from Anadarko High School with the Class of 1959 and, shortly thereafter, decided to follow in her older sister Alma's footsteps and join the U.S. Marine Corps. She attended boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and was then stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif. She served active duty for two years and one year in reserve duty. Tselee was honorably discharged in 1962 with the rank of Private First Class.

Mary Tselee USMC

Mary Louise (Stevenson) Tselee during her service in the U.S. Marine Corps.

In 1968, Tselee went to work as a Home Living Assistant at Riverside Indian School and became a "Cottage Mom" to hundreds of students-both male and female-during her tenure. She was a favorite of many students as evidenced by the shoebox full of pictures given to her by them with word "Mom" written on the back more often that "Mrs. Tselee." She retired in 2000 after 32 years of faithful service.

Tselee has been married to Nathan "Jumbo" Tselee for 53 years. They have three daughters: Andrea, Leslie and Kristen. They also have four grandchildren: Jenna, Whitlee, Stephen and Kyle. Her granddaughter Whitlee followed in her "Gram-Z's" footsteps and joined the military service in 2013.

Tselee Family

The family of Mary Louise (Stevenson) Tselee shared in her celebration as part of the AARP Indian Elder Honors on October 2, 2018. Standing from left: daughters Kristen Tselee and Leslie Tselee. Seated from left: Daughter Andrea Tselee; granddaughter Whitlee Miller; Mary Louise Tselee; husband Nathan "Jumbo" Tselee; and grandson Stephen Jones. (Photo courtesy of AARP)

Tselee shares this honor with past Wichita recipients who include Tselee's brother, Myles Stephenson, Sr.; Shirley Davilla; Clark Inkanish; Elfreida Irving; Doris Jean Lamar; Stuart Owings; Marsha Rose; James "Bunny" Ross; Franklin Dale and Rochelle Swift; and Stratford Williams.

AARP Board Chair Joan Ruff said, "Each one of our honorees, like our founder Dr. Ethel Andrus Percy, has dedicated his or her life to serving their tribes and their communities - and none has let age stand in their way. Dr. Percy would have loved to have been here tonight, and she would have relished meeting each and every one of these Oklahoma heroes."

Presenting the medallions to the honorees were Joe Ann Vermillion, AARP State President, Joan Ruff, AARP Board Chair, Sarah Jennings, AARP Regional Vice President, and Mashell Sourjohn, AARP Oklahoma Associate State Director of Outreach.

Dr. Judy Goforth Parker was awarded the Dr. John Edwards Memorial Leadership Award. Dr. Parker is a respected elder of the Chickasaw Tribe. She is a published author, former tribal legislator, and currently serves as commissioner of health policy for the Chickasaw Nation Division of Health.

Voskuhl said the AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors, which has recognized 500 elders from all 39 federally-recognized tribes and nations in Oklahoma since its inception in 2009, is the largest gathering of its kind in the state and, perhaps, in the nation. Voskuhl also noted that AARP Oklahoma continues to expand its work on issues affecting Native Americans in the state, particularly working to address health disparities, transportation needs and cultural preservation.

Other 2018 AARP Indian Honorees include Otoe-Missouria playwright Annette Arkeketa-Rendon; Kiowa/Wichita beadwork artist Arlene Bates Caesar; Pawnee metalwork artist Bruce Caesar; Deb Echo-Hawk, founder of the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project; Muscogee Creek Nation Principal Chief James Floyd; Creek poet and musician Joy Harjo-Sapulpa; James Pepper Henry, Kaw Nation member and executive director of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum of Oklahoma City; and Comanche educator Delores Twohatchet.

(Article based on AARP press release, event program and family information provided to President Terri Parton by Kris Tselee. According to family information, the family's last name of Stephenson was misspelled as "Stevenson" on Mrs. Tselee's birth certificate).