Communities mourn road-washout victimsEllen Wright drove for tribal community college, and Gwen Michalek was a cook for her church.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
LOWER BRULE — As they continued to struggle with the floodwater that took the lives of two members of their communities, people in Lower Brule and nearby Reliance took time Thursday to agree that Ellen Wright and Gwen Michalek will be missed.
Both women died Tuesday when their vehicles were swept away by the waters of rain-swollen Counselor Creek yards from the washout. Wright, 61, of Lower Brule, was found about four miles downstream.
Tara Thomas, the principal of Lower Brule High School for the past two years, has fond memories of Wright.
“Ellen was a great woman,” Thomas said. “She was one of the first people I met in Lower Brule. She was a kind and pleasant woman.”
Thomas described Wright as active with the Lower Brule Community College, where she was employed as a van driver. She was driving an LBCC van when it was washed away.
No LBCC officials could be reached for comment Thursday.
Wright was a dedicated guardian to several of her grandchildren, two of whom attended the high school, Thomas said. “She did a really good job with those kids.”
Wright is also remembered by people in nearby Reliance.
“She was a wonderful gal,” said Wayne Lundquist, general manager of Farmers Union Oil Company, 121 S. Main, where Wright regularly stopped for gas.
Raymond Wingert, LP gas distributor at Farmers Union, recalled Wright as an upbeat person.
“She was honest and willing. She’d help anyone if she could.” He described her as a “cheerful person who said she after the culvert under BIA Road 10 gave way. Michalek, 56, of Chamberlain, was found inside her vehicle about 100 liked her job.”
Wingert, a member of the Reliance Fire Department, was one of several local firefighters who responded to the highway washout where both women died. “I didn’t know it was her at the time,” he said of Wright, “but I had a feeling. It was sad.”
Wingert said he also knew Gwen Michalek.
“I hauled LP gas to Gwen, who was also one of our cus- tomers,” Wingert said. “She was a very family-oriented person who lived in Chamberlain but worked in Lower Brule.”
The Rev. Joseph “Father Joe” Dean, priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lower Brule, where Michalek was employed as a cook, said Michalek was “a lovely person and a great worker, and we’re all going to miss her.”
Dean, St. Mary’s priest since January 2009, said Michalek’s service predated his time with the church. He estimated she cooked for the parish priests for about 15 years.
“She was a great lady, a good human being, and a fabulous worker and we’re really going to miss her — for all those reasons.”
Michalek grew up in Keystone, Terraville and Lower Brule and was a graduate of Lower Brule High School.
She attended Huron College and later majored in culinary arts at the United Tribes College in Bismarck, N.D.
There will be two 8 p.m. wakes for Michalek, Dean said: one on Saturday and the second on Sunday, both at St. Mary’s in Lower Brule.
Michalek’s funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Monday at the church.
Burial will follow in Lakeview Cemetery, Fort Thompson.
Wright’s funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Lower Brule Community Center. Burial will be in the Holy Comforter Episcopal Cemetery, Lower Brule.
Wake services will be Saturday, Sunday and Monday evenings at the community center.