Ida Bear, a venerated Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) elder in Denver, Colorado’s close-knit American Indian community, walked on Monday, August 19 at the age of 74, after several years of struggling with rheumatoid arthritis.
She was born on the reservation in Nebraska. As a child, she was relocated for some years to California during the 1950s, when federal government policy required Indian children to be educated away from their home reservation.
She married Logan Bear and moved with him to Denver after he completed his military service. In Denver, she became a new mother and converted to Catholicism, two developments that shaped the rest of her life.
Ida and Logan Bear had three children. Ida Bear made sure they attended Mass and observed religious holidays, increasing the children’s enthusiasm for those holidays by making her famous fry bread.
She used a labor-intensive recipe that employed yeast and a waiting period that only heightened anticipation for the golden, round discs she lifted from a bath of hot lard simmering in a cast-iron skillet.
“When you go to a powwow now, the fry bread is made with baking powder, which makes it kind of gummy,” said her son, Lee Bear. “Yeast raises the dough, and makes it nice and fluffy. It’s really good.”
Ida Bear’s celebrated fry bread was featured at family holiday feasts, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, and at potlucks at All Saints Catholic Church, which Ida Bear considered her second home.
“Everyone at the church knew her; she was involved with pretty much everything,” said Robert Ruiz, the church’s youth director.
“She made rosaries, at least 4,000 of them, to go to South America, Africa, prison ministries, wherever they’re needed,” Ruiz said. “She taught religious education for adults. She taught catechism to the Hmong. We have one of the largest Hmong communities in this area.”
Ida Bear was a woman more inclined to action than words. She had strong opinions but rarely disclosed them unless she was asked. She liked to be useful and automatically looked for opportunities to lend a hand when help was needed.
Sometimes those opportunities came to her. In addition to raising her three children, she also raised her sisters’ twin boys, Everett and Evan Hunter-Bear, and three of her grandchildren—Jordan, Joshua and Jacob Bear.
“It was never quiet at my parents’ house,” Lee Bear said. “Something was always going on. On holidays, whoever was in town would come over, up to 30 people sometimes. That was a lot of fry bread to make.”
Ida Bear was nearly undone when Jordan Bear died last year in an attack at an Afghan-NATO base in south Kandahar Province. He was 25, on his third deployment and the third generation of Bears to serve in the Army.
Survivors include husband Logan Bear of Denver; son Lee Bear of Lakewood; daughter Cathleen Bear of Denver; sister Lou Mae Hunter of Winnebago, Nebraska; and 12 grandchildren. One daughter preceded her in death.
A funeral Mass was held Friday, August 23 at All Saints Catholic Church, 2559 S. Federal Blvd. She will be buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery.