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WOSTER: Remembering a remarkable woman

Last Friday, while many people watched the inauguration of a new American president, Nancy and I joined a great crowd of other folks in the Rec Center at St. Joseph's Indian School to say goodbye to an unassuming, but remarkable woman named Diana...

Terry Woster

Last Friday, while many people watched the inauguration of a new American president, Nancy and I joined a great crowd of other folks in the Rec Center at St. Joseph's Indian School to say goodbye to an unassuming, but remarkable woman named Diana Caldwell.

The inauguration was important to the nation. Paying respects to Diana was essential to those she considered friends and family. She had died suddenly a week earlier, saddening the Chamberlain community and the extended clan she had gathered around herself in her half a century of living. Sharing the grief and the memories, laughing and weeping and hugging, was one way to show respect and affection for a woman who never once, to my knowledge, went out of her way to draw attention to herself.

Diana, 49, and her husband, Chris, have been family friends since they began working as house parents for native school children from across South Dakota and nearby states. Her death tore at the hearts not only of her immediate family, but also of a generation of children from Lakota, Dakota, Nakota and other tribes, children who came of age relying on her support and guidance and calling her "mom'' just as naturally as did her three sons, Will, Coleman and Cameron.

Had I stepped away from the service that afternoon in the Rec Center and walked out the side door, I'd have had a short stroll to the home where Diana and Chris acted as homework advisors, life counselors, gentle disciplinarians, sources of comfort and second parents to the girls who lived in the home during the academic year. The few times we visited the place with our son, also a St. Joe's staff member, it rocked with laughter, shook with schoolgirl drama and tantalized with the aroma of home-cooked meals. The homes at St. Joe's are intended to be safe and nurturing places, and the house parents like Diana and Chris make them so.

Look, it's easy to make much of a life cut short. I'm sure that in many communities across the state there are women and men who are perhaps as quietly essential as Diana. Maybe you can picture one or two in your town. They are the people to tend to details and get things done while the rest of us are talking and planning. They are the ones behind the table selling the raffle tickets or scurrying to make sure the taco fixings are in good supply, the ones seeing to it that visitors and guests are having a good time.

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Some folks give the speeches. Others do the heavy lifting. Diana always seemed to be one of those people in the places where the heavy lifting gets done. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Diana came from Ohio to Pierre, where she attended high school. She started at St. Joe's in 1995, the same year she and an upbeat guy with an Oklahoma drawl married. Diana's native name means "one who watches over children,'' and that's pretty much what she did for most of her adult life. Whether it was her three boys or the children who had been placed in her care, she cared for them all.

The cover photograph for the service looked like Diana - medium-length brown hair, bangs, dark eyes behind the eyeglasses. I can't recall, though, when I ever saw Diana without a big smile or an open-mouthed laugh. It's serious business running a family, serious business caring for a group of school children. She seemed to find joy in every piece of it. I can't count the number of times I saw her behind a table at a powwow or some benefit, surrounded by "her'' girls, selling the jewelry they'd made together. And when she'd glance up and see a friend walking toward the display? My, the smile that lit her face made it impossible not to be happy, too.

As I said, you probably can think of a person such as Diana in your town. I'm not trying to make her a saint. She'd laugh at the thought. She was simply that unassuming, remarkable woman whose life made others' lives better. Would that all of us could say as much.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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