Singing on a sacred pollen path: In Loving Memory - Leonda Jean Levchuk

Leonda Jean Levchuk: Mother, daughter, sister, public relations professional, mentor to many, a loving, caring friend to all who knew her. Dec. 15, 1970 ~ May 5, 2019

After a brief illness earlier this year, Leonda Jean Levchuk, Dine’ passed away at the age of 48. The passing was a shock to so many in Indian Country to include her places where she had contributed so many years, the Bureau of Indian Education, Indian Health Service and the National Museum of the American Indian.

Leonda’s mother told Indian Country Today via telephone on several occasions how special her daughter was and that she was a lover of life that also loved to smile, was an extremely attentive listener as a child and also loved collecting Disney mouse ears.

On June 6, 2019, the National Museum of the American Indian hosted a private memorial service for the family of Leonda Jean Levchuk.

In addition to the memorial service at the museum, family and those who knew Leonda also sent their thoughts and memories of Leonda Jean Levchuk, who left this earth too soon.

Family Obituary

Leonda Jean Levchuk was a civil servant in the Departments of Health & Human Services and Interior, lastly as a senior public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Indian Education at the time of her passing.

Leonda worked for 18 years at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the Washington, DC institute where she developed most of her passion for promoting education and American Indian culture. She also leaves her many co-workers and friends at the Indian Health Service in Rockville, MD, and around the Nation. Leonda is a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, an alumna with a Bachelors of Arts in Speech Communication. She is a co-founder of the Washington, DC Native Public Relations Roundtable. She holds awards and commendations for her works in public health, media, public relations, and health promotion.

Leonda’s hobbies included reading celebrity biographies, Peruvian culture and crafts, and experiencing DC’s foodie scene. Disney and social media lovers, Leonda with her daughter and best friend Ana Rose made frequent trips to Walt Disney World and Epcot, their favorite parks to visit over and over again. 

She loved sharing pictures of the food and drinks she was trying around the parks, and she could never collect enough Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears!

Leonda Levchuk and daughter Ana

Leonda radiated kindness and warmth. She lit up the room with her bright personality, her beautiful laughter that made everyone laugh with her, and she created great memories with everyone who knew her. Leonda’s standing policy of “first on the dancefloor” made her the life of almost every party. Leonda always knew how to include everyone into everything. Her work bringing professionals in Indian Country to the attention of media outlets - American and international - showed her spirit of connecting people with people. Her recent volunteer activities include assisting with the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Leonda is survived by her daughter Ana Rose, mother, and father Berenice and John, and brother Paul.

All funeral arrangements are private but in honor, memory, and appreciation of Leonda’s involvement in Indian education, the family requests that donations can be made in her name to the Holbrook Indian School, Holbrook, Arizona.

Donations can be made in honor of Leonda Levchuk by name will be applied at the family’s request to the girls’ leadership program, the healing with horses program, and the garden program at https://www.holbrookindianschool.org/donate.

On June 6, 2019, the National Museum of the American Indian hosted a private memorial service for the family of Leonda Jean Levchuk

Leonda Jean Levchuk - In Loving Memory - Cover
Leonda Jean Levchuk - In Loving Memory

Leonda’s father John Levchuk's words to guests at the NMAI on June 6, 2019

Thank you, everyone, for joining us here this evening in the celebration and memory of Leonda's life -- mother, sister, daughter, and friend and professional colleague to many. The Levchuk family will be forever grateful beyond words for your prayers, and for the outpouring of your love, friendship, and memories of our daughter. They have been immensely consoling, and we will cherish what you have shared with us for a very long time to come.

And there are not enough words to express our gratitude to all those folks from NMAI, Department of the Interior Office of the Assistant Secretary, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Indian Health Service who worked so diligently in putting together and hosting this event.

We are deeply humbled by your love and devotion to he!p ease the pain that is shared by everyone here this evening. Thank you for extending your gracious invitation.to us, so that we could be here with you to share in this farewell sendoff of Leonda, our family's beloved mom, sister, and daughter.

If we could speak to Leonda here now, we would say: " Dear Daughter, you know we are missing your presence so very much. But we are comforted in knowing that you led such a good and happy life, in seeing your unconditional devotion to your daughter Ana, and knowing how you have touched the hearts of so many people in your personal and professional world. Thank you, Leonda, for being in our family and giving us such love and joy. We will be forever grateful that God has blessed us by having you pass through our lives. We are so proud of how close you and Ana were, like two peas in a pod, or like two magpies chattering in the trees.

"And, dear daughter, we are proud, as well as deeply consoled, in knowing that you have touched so many hearts in so many good ways through your all too short time on Earth. Giving us these memories, Dear Daughter, is a wonderful gift that you have given us. Your spirit and memory will live on in our family forever. You will forever remain our "little ch'iigii", which is an affectionate Navajo term for a little child. It literally means "chapped one." And you and Ana will forever remain in our hearts as our "little feileacan" which means "butterflies" in Irish.

After hearing all the preceding speakers mention Leonda's public affairs career, I'd like to mention how she got started in that career path. One evening, during a call home, while she was a 2nd or 3rd-year student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, she blurted out, "I'm never going to take another organic chemistry class ever again, and I'm never going to take a chemistry lab class ever again." She was a pre-dentistry major at the time, more or less following her dad's guidance, you might say, to pursue a career in the sciences, especially the medical sciences. So, Dad asks, " Oh? What will you do instead?" "Change majors." "To what?" ''Speech communication." "Wow, that's quite a switch. What prompted you to choose that?" "I went to a class with my roommate and loved it, so that’s what I want to do." So much for Dad's career advice.

In loving memory of her Mom, Ana painted a blue iris, Leonda's favorite flower, to display at Leonda's private funeral service. And Ana put a fresh blue iris in the hand of all in attendance.

In loving memory of his sister, Paul assembled the slide show that celebrates Leonda's life and that you have been viewing this evening.

In loving memory of her daughter, Berenice wrote a poem that was printed in Leonda's funeral program. Regretfully, the physical stress would have been too much for Berenice to be here to read it to you herself. So I'll be reading it now instead.

0 ETERNAL PEACE

When ease of mind does falter, pleading peace,
Then you will hear a chant resound all 'round.
The ageless cadence pulsates into earth.
This ancient echo soothing you to rest.

As Chanter wakens you with song of dawn,
A kindred love embraces with healing breath.
Eternal prayer carries you on home.
Your essence sings on sacred pollen path.

In closing, I'd like to mention that, in honor of Leonda's long interest, involvement, and commitment to Indian education, the family requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Holbrook Indian School in Holbrook Arizona. So far, over $1000.00 has been donated in Leonda's name, to be applied to the girls' leadership program, the healing with horses program, and the garden program. We learned yesterday that donations are still coming in. We and the school are humbled and deeply thankful for the generosity that has been extended in honor of Leonda.

Thank you again for being here this evening in remembrance of Leonda and for inviting us to share in her send-off with you. We know that she is here among us now in spirit. And she is surely smiling lovingly down on Ana and saying, "Yes, Ana, you are getting through this okay, and you will continue successfully on your path through life. I never had a doubt about that. I am at peace knowing that."

Walk in beauty, dear daughter.

Messages to Indian Country Today about Leonda Jean Levchuk

Kevin Gover
Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian
Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma

Leonda worked at NMAI for over 18 years (1997- 2015) in several offices and positions, with her longest tenure and impact in our Public Affairs office. Leonda’s skill, dedication, and personality connected her to so many of us here at the museum and to many people throughout the Smithsonian. Since leaving the NMAI, she has served Indian Country through her work at the Indian Health Service and then at the Bureau of Indian Education.

This loss will be felt very deeply by many. Please keep her beloved daughter Ana in your thoughts.

Jacquetta “Jackie” Swift
Comanche/Ft. Sill Apache
Repatriation Manager
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

I had the great fortune to work with Leonda when I came back to the NMAI in 2003 to work on the opening of the new museum on the National Mall. Leonda was a team member on the Native Nations procession and we quickly developed a great working bond that carried us through the opening of the museum and two national powwows in 2005 and 2007. After these major events our individual work trajectories took us in different directions and we didn’t get a chance to work as closely as we had before. In the scheme of things that mattered little since our bond of friendship had grown so much over the years. My dearest Leonda was a confidant in my inner most circle of friends and I likewise to her. No matter what life threw our way she was always a great listener and sounding board for ideas. We would complain about something then laugh and laugh some more while enjoying life.

When our daughters first met, it was the mirror image of our friendship. Leonda brought “Miss Ana” as she would refer to her, to my daughter, to Dylan’s 6th birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.

Pretty much after that, we were all inseparable and for the next 15 plus years, we’d celebrate just about every major occasion, holiday or life event together. There were countless long-weekend holidays, birthdays, pumpkin patches, mechanical bull riding, zip-lining, movies, haunted houses, the list goes on and on. Basically, any occasion was fair game for a weekend sleepover.

The kids would run themselves out from playing and we would stay up all hours of the night howling from our own entertainment. The girls went from being “BFF's” to “sissies.” They would torment Notah, just like older sisters would by mostly ignoring him or telling him he couldn’t play with them. For instance, when they were younger the Polly Pockets dolls were all the rage. The girls said he couldn’t play with them because he didn’t have a Polly Pocket doll. Likely, whatever toy he was using to try and blend in was probably over the top, out of context, or too obnoxious for their taste. Just like a mom, and really a second mom, she saw how sad he was at not being allowed to play with them. Of course, the next weekend sleepover Leonda brought him his very own Polly Pocket boy doll so he could play with the girls, though I doubt they treated him any different. After her passing, Notah reflected, “I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t here…she was always here”. No truer words have been spoken, she was always there for me too and we are all going to miss this sweet gracious angel on earth.

Photos courtesy Jacquetta “Jackie” Swift 

Photos courtesy Jackie Swift (8)
Photos courtesy Jackie Swift (7)
Photos courtesy Jackie Swift (6)
Photos courtesy Jackie Swift (5)
Photos courtesy Jackie Swift (4)
Photos courtesy Jackie Swift (3)
Photos courtesy Jackie Swift (2)
Photos courtesy Jackie Swift (1)

Robin Kinnard
Friend and colleague of Leondra

Leonda was an exceptional person. She made me a better person. She made me want to BE a better person and mom. She was a role model of a mother and made being a working mom look easy! I mean, who does that? Her relationship with Ana was, in my book, what every mom should strive for.

We had a lot in common which is what I think drew us together. I met Leonda in 1995 when we were both secretaries at IHS in the same office. We were both recent college graduates and were new to IHS. She had been there for a couple of months when I got there so she "showed me the ropes." We discovered that we happen to have a mutual friend and that was the beginning of our BFF friendship. It's funny to think about that now, 24 years later. And while I have grown and moved on professionally, those were some of the funnest work times I've ever had. Even if I was a terrible secretary. lol!

I moved away from the DC area in 1997 when I returned to Oklahoma to further my education. I didn't get to see Leonda much over the years as we were both parents, had careers, and lived 1,500 miles apart. But we still talked on the phone and when we did it was like no time had passed. No matter if it was a few weeks, months and even a year or more. We would still laugh and laugh and carry on just like we had always done. Just like we did when we were secretaries all those years ago. Her laugh was contagious! I definitely miss it.

I miss my friend. My dear beautiful friend who stood by my side and was there for me through babies, marriage, and sickness. She and her friendship were precious to me. She was a beautiful person and the world lost a ray of light when she moved on in her spiritual journey. I think about her family. I can't imagine how much their world has changed, and I continue to pray for their comfort as they face a year "firsts" and beyond.

She was special. She was my BFF, and I miss her.

Leonda Levchuk family photo

Leonda Levchuk's traditional Dine' name Bi Sii’ Nizhonigo Yana Jinn translates into English as "Beautiful Black Hair Flowing Down." Levchuk's clan was Kin Yaa’aani ine, Towering House Clan. 

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Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) 
Twitter - @VinceSchilling
Instagram - @VinceSchilling
Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

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