Virginia's Story

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A funeral ceremony honoring and remembering the life of Virginia May Bear will be 10 a.m., Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at the St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Claremore, Okla. Interment will follow in the Ft. Gibson National Cemetery. Arrangements have been entrusted to Rice Funeral Service. The family will receive visitors from 6-8, Monday evening at the funeral home.
Born Virginia May Sierra on May 10, 1928 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation near the foot of the Black Hills in South Dakota, Virginia was the daughter of Bennett A. and Mary (Yellow Boy) Sierra.
She grew up in the area while attending the Pine Ridge Boarding School and graduating from Oglala High School with the Class of 1953. Following graduation, Virginia was accepted to a Native American nursing school in Lawton, where she earned her nursing degree in 1955.
Virginia was immediately offered a position with the Pine Ridge Indian Hospital and she gratefully accepted this position as a Licensed Practical Nurse with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was there in July of 1955 that she caught the eye of Willis Bear and the couple was married October 6, 1956.
Willis accepted a stipend to attend school at the University of California Berkley where he earned his Master's degree. Upon completion of graduate school, the young couple returned to Pine Ridge where they both continued their careers in the Indian Health System. Willis' career in healthcare education warranted relocating to Idaho where their daughter, Arlene was born in 1961.
The young family moved to the Crow Reservation in Lodge Grass, Montana where they were both employed by the Crow Agency Indian Hospital.
Virginia loved their white house in Montana with its perfect white picket fence. There were 19 gorgeous trees, a beautiful yard, and all types of pretty flowers decorating their property.
Willis had a little cabin in the back yard where he kept an office or rather, his "hide-a-way." T
he Bear family eventually relocated to Claremore in 1968 for employment with the Indian Hospital. Once Virginia adjusted to Oklahoma heat, the family would call Claremore "home" for the rest of their lives.
While working part-time at the Claremore Indian Hospital, Willis encouraged Virginia to continue her education.
She used funds from her bead work to pay for her first semester at Claremore Junior College. Eventually transferring to Bacone College in Muskogee, Virginia completed her education and earned the status of Registered Nurse.
The Indian Hospital in Claremore was very confident in Virginia both professionally and academically. In fact, they offered her a registered nursing position prior to passing her state licensing board exams. Virginia spent 20 years with the Claremore Indian Hospital which included 17 years in the out-patient department and 3 years in a supervisory nursing role with ambulatory care.
Virginia was voted Nurse of the Year at the Claremore Indian Hospital just prior to her retirement in 1994.
She was also very involved with the Order of the Eastern Star, serving as Worthy Matron in 1984. Virginia was always supportive of Arlene's involvement with the Rainbow Girls and she was a 25 year member of the Holiday Hills Extension Club.
Surviving family members include her children: Inez Schenderline of Claremore and Arlene Wimp and husband Bill of San Antonio; many nieces; nephews; other relatives; and a host of friends.
Virginia was preceded in death by her parents; her husband Willis Bear; her sisters: Mary, Loretta, and Romena; her brothers: Aloysius, Harold, and Lester and a grandson, Terence.
Published on March 11, 2017
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