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Lorretta Webster, fluent in Oneida, dies at 100
She was part of tribe's language revitalization project
By Scott Williams • email@example.com • September 30, 2010
Lorretta Webster, one of the last people to learn Oneida as a first language, died Monday. She was 100.
The Hobart native worked with the Oneida Language Revitalization Program, started in 1996 after a survey found only 25 to 30 tribal elders were fluent in Oneida.
"She never stopped using her language," said Inez Thomas, a coordinator at the Oneida Cultural Heritage Center. "She never quit."
According to family members and others, Webster was among the few remaining first-language speakers of Oneida.
But her passion for preservation of the Oneida Tribe of Indians' culture succeeded in passing the language down to younger generations.
Randy Cornelius, a language archivist for the tribe, said he worked with Webster and three or four other elders in translating stories, word lists and ceremonies.
The women met regularly about 10 years ago and patiently helped Cornelius understand each phrase and term. Webster, who also spoke English, was a regular and enthusiastic participant.
"She was there all the time," he said. "She looked forward to it. She was eager to teach."
Born July 25, 1910, Webster was one of 11 children raised by Elijah and Mary Skenandore.
First husband Willard "Rollie" Skenandore and second husband Charles Webster preceded her in death.
She is survived by two daughters, Gloria Lusis, Milwaukee, and Carol Elm, Oneida, and was preceded in death by one son, Kenneth Skenandore. She also had 15 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
Evie Anderson, a granddaughter from Seattle, Wash., recalled trying in vain to learn Oneida from Webster. Anderson said her grandmother was proud of the family's Oneida heritage.
"She's all about preserving the traditions," Anderson said. "It's who she is."
Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Holy Apostle Episcopal Church, 2937 Freedom Road, Hobart. Visitation is from 5 to 8 p.m. today and 9 a.m. Friday at Ryan Funeral Home, 305 N. 10th St., De Pere.
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