CUSTER | Mary Leona Dubray Pechota was welcomed into the loving arms of her heavenly father on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 in Custer.
Born Jan. 12, 1924 at their home in Greenwood Township, Mary Leona was the fifth of 10 children to Peter and Lillian (nee Rice) Dubray. She attended North Greenwood School as a child, arriving each day by horseback, accompanied by her brothers Kenny and Delbert.
Leona loved to tell stories about her childhood at the home place. She told tales of Turvy, her horse that refused riders and once trotted into Senkel’s Dam, little Leona still riding bareback. She forever blamed that incident for her fear of water that wasn’t in a cup. She and her siblings tormented each other with bullsnakes in the chicken coop. Leona worked hard beside Peter and her siblings, doing chores, putting up hay, planting huge gardens, picking all kinds of berries and listening each Saturday night to the Major Bowes Amateur Hour.
The Dubray and Rice families were large, loyal and full of fun and laughter. They didn’t have much but they had love. During hard times, the family received help from neighbors, especially from special friends the Frantzs. Leona told countless stories about visiting with Julia Wright, Flora Driving Hawk, Robert Dubray, Earl and Adelle Boyd, Josephine Price, Louie Moran, Spec and Connie Dillon and many others. Always proud of her heritage, Leona was quick to remind people that her mother went to Carlisle Indian School with Jim Thorpe. When the kids experienced prejudice due to their native heritage, Peter would hear nothing of it, telling Leona if that was the worst she ever experienced, she should count herself lucky.
As the kids aged, Leona and siblings attended high school at St. Francis Indian Mission, in those days, a boarding school. Peter would drop Leona off in September and she would return to the home place in the spring. The Mission, its teachers, nuns and priests, had an enduring influence on her faith, molding her into a devout Catholic; she wouldn’t have a bad word uttered about the Church in her presence. Later, she would serve as sacristan, Eucharistic minister and Catholic Daughters officer at her home parish and, for decades, took immense pride in cleaning and laundering the vestments and linens for St. Isidore’s.
Before graduation, Leona left St. Francis to earn money to help out the family. She worked at Omaha Cold Storage in Winner. At age 17, she boarded the train with friend June Houston to Hanford, WA, where Leona worked for two years (1942-44) on the atomic bomb at the full-scale plutonium production plant. Leona made lifelong friends and sent much of her paycheck back to South Dakota to her family, who used the money to purchase a house, which still stands on the home place today.
During World War II, Leona joined the U.S. Armed Forces as a proud member of the Women’s Army Corps. She trained at Fort Hood and was discharged at Fort Sam Houston.
In 1946, she met Frank Pechota Jr. at a Bohemian Hall Dance. They were married that same year. She told great stories about the unlikely pair, an Indian gal with a bunch of Bohemians. She got along famously with the whole Pechota clan. She and Junior welcomed baby Terry to the family then made a move to California in 1948, where son Gary was born. When it became apparent, as she said, that neither Frank nor she were destined to become movie stars, they moved back to Tripp County and lived on the Pechota farm. When baby Tonna joined the family, they moved to Colome, where they raised their children and lived for most of their lives. Later, Leona moved to Rapid City for several years and Minneapolis for a few, before coming back to Colome to live out her golden years. She was proud to be from Colome and had many friends, church family and dear friends at the Rose Manor Assisted Living.
Leona worked many jobs in her 95 years, among them, she was a waitress at Manzer’s Café and the Colome Municipal Bar, and did washing and ironing for the teachers of Colome School. She worked well into her 80s, volunteering at the Colome American Legion Thursday steak night.
Leona went on to earn her GED and, at age 54, she earned her Licensed Practical Nurse certification, her proudest personal achievement. Wonderful memories were made with the night shift at Winner Baptist Hospital, and Leona made friendships that lasted her until the end of her days. Leona meticulously wrote her final wishes down 20 years ago and, as was her fashion, was very clear about how she wanted to be laid to rest, surrounded by the women she worked alongside in patient care. She worked in various health care facilities until her retirement but cherished her days at the Winner hospital. Leona’s final wishes were that she be buried in her uniform. She wrote simply, by way of explanation: “I loved being a nurse.”
The consummate matriarch, Leona ruled the roost in and outside her home. She had a temper but her anger never lasted long. She believed in education, discipline, faith and family. Leona was devoted to the notion that one must care for their children and relatives. She loved all her family fiercely and helped raise Terry’s boys. She was known as a spitfire and the family is grateful for the loving care she received at Rose Manor in Colome and Custer Regional Senior Care in Custer during her last years, even when being a spitfire became a bit of a handful.
Leona was preceded in death by husband, Frank Jr.; daughter, Tonna; son, Gary; and siblings, Lily, Harry, Emma, Alvina, Myrtle, Winona and Delbert. She was also preceded in death by her beloved cocker spaniel Peaches.
She is survived by her son, Terry and daughter-in-law, Julie; sister, Vi Rocek; and brother, Kenny Dubray. Leona was dearly loved by her grandchildren, Todd Pechota, Chris Pechota, Dominic Pechota, Tovi Cox Bartels, Alec Pechota, Kati Pechota, Mariah Pokorny, Mackenzie Miller, Gabrielle Morganfield, the housecat gang; many great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandson.
Leona will be missed by all who knew her. The world will miss her famous 4-inch meringue, her signature banana bread care packages and, forever, we will miss her hard-won wisdom, her wonderful laugh, her wit, her compassion for “the pitiful”, her love of the Church and her undying faith. May we all live such a colorful, full and faithful life as Mary Leona Pechota.
Visitation begins at 5 p.m. CDT, with rosary at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 22, at St. Isidore’s Catholic Church in Colome.
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 23, at St. Isidore’s followed by burial at the Colome Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, Leona has requested a memorial for masses to be said for the repose of her soul.