archived image

Cherokee rocket scientist leaves heavenly gift

BY Phoenix Archives
12/18/2008 07:22 AM

By Kara Briggs
NMAI Newservice

WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian recently received notice of a bequest from Cherokee citizen Mary Golda Ross, who died in 2008 three months shy of her 100th birthday.

Ross joined 25,000 Native people who help open the museum in 2004. Now her gift, invested in the museum’s endowment, will help perpetuate the NMAI’s cultural and educational mission for future generations.

“She was a mathematician, and she knew if you gave a large scholarship it would be gone in a year,” her niece Evelyn Ross McMillan said. “But if you gave to endowment the principal would continue to give.”

Though no dollar amount was given, NMAI officials called the gift “generous.”

“She was a strong-willed, independent woman who was ahead of her time,” said Norbert Hill, chairman of the NMAI’s board of trustees.

Ross, whose Cherokee lineage includes former Principal Chief John Ross, was a rocket scientist who spent her 99 years of life looking mostly into the future.

Born in 1908 in the foothills of the Ozarks, she was one year younger than the state of Oklahoma. A gifted child, she was sent to live with her grandparents in the Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah to attend school. At 16, she enrolled in Northeastern State Teachers College.

“When I went to the college to enroll, they asked me what I wanted for my major subject. I said, ‘What’s a major subject?’” she said later in life. “The person finally said, ‘What did you have the most fun with when you were in high school?’

She said she answered math, of course and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1928. She taught math and science for nine years in nearby high schools. But by 1937, Ross asked herself if she was going to go out and see the world or stay in Oklahoma.

She took a civil service exam and was hired as a statistical clerk at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. There, a Cherokee woman from the Department of Education noticed her.

“We can’t waste you here,” the official said. “You’re an Indian with a degree and experience in teaching. We need you in the field.”

In 1937, she was sent to Santa Fe, N.M., to work as the girls’ advisor at a school for American Indian artists. The school later became the Institute of American Indian Art. In the summers Ross pursued a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Northern Colorado.

While there, she took astronomy classes and read every book about the stars. But it was while visiting friends in California when she heard that the Lockheed Corp., short of skilled workers upon the outbreak of World War II, was looking for people with her technical background. She was hired as a mathematician in 1942.

She was assigned to work with the engineering staff on the effects of pressure on the P-38 Lightning fighter plane as it neared the sound barrier and improving the aero elasticity of that first plane so large it had to be treated as a flexible body.

After the war, Lockheed sent her to the University of California at Los Angeles to get a professional certification in engineering. She studied mathematics for modern engineering, aeronautics and missile and celestial mechanics. By 1948, she was on the ground floor of what would become the space race.

In 1952, Lockheed asked Ross to be one of 40 engineers known as the Lockheed Skunk Works, a secret think tank. It was the start of Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., a major consultant to NASA based in Sunnyvale, Calif. Ross was 45, the only woman and the only Native American.

“Often at night there were four of us working until 11 p.m.,” she recalled later. “I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research. My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Frieden computer. We were taking the theoretical and making it real.”

Ross retired from Lockheed at age 65 in 1973, and turned her attention to the next generation of Native Americans and women in engineering. She recruited high school and college students to the field.

A member of the Society of Women Engineers since the 1950s, she also took an interest in American Indian groups such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes.

“To function efficiently, you need math,” she said later in life. “The world is so technical, if you plan to work in it, a math background will let you go farther and faster.”

One of the regrets Ross mentioned was that she had spent much of her life apart from Indian people. Part of Ross’ longevity, her niece said, stemmed from her belief in “keeping old friends and making new friends.”

Among her newer friends was Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts, who is also an engineer: “Just think, a Cherokee woman from Park Hill (Okla.) helped put an American on the moon.”

Culture

BY STAFF REPORTS
09/23/2016 10:00 AM
VINITA, Okla. – Enjoy a day of traditional Cherokee art, music and more at the Eastern Trails Museum on Sept. 24. Cherokee Day, featuring live music and cultural demonstrations from Cherokee National Treasures, runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The special event celebrates the opening of a new exhibit at the museum that pays tribute to Cherokee influence throughout Craig County. “This represents a great opportunity to share the history and heritage of the Cherokee Nation,” Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “Eastern Trails Museum is a good partner with the tribe as we continue our ongoing educational efforts. Our Cherokee artisans and historians ensure our unique traditions remain alive and relevant for future generations.” Cherokee Day is a family-friendly event and is free to attend. Cultural demonstrations include basketry, loom weaving, buffalo grass dolls, sculptures, ceramics and traditional hunting bows. The Eastern Trails Museum is located at 215 W. Illinois Ave. For more information about the museum, visit www.EasternTrailsMuseum.com. For more information about Cherokee culture and Cherokee Nation historical attractions, visit www.VisitCherokeeNation.com.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/16/2016 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – The Cherokee Art Market is set to return to Oct. 8-9 at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The 11th annual event has grown into one of the finest Native American art markets in the country, featuring more than 150 elite Native American artists. More than 50 tribes are represented at the event that features artwork available for purchase. Pieces include beadwork, pottery, painting, basketry, sculptures and textiles. As part of the two-day event, there will be cultural demonstrations open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Cultural demonstrations include jewelry, stamp work technique, katsina doll making, pottery, painting, basket weaving and music. An opening reception will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7 in The Sky Room to welcome artists and guests. The artists will compete for $75,000 in overall prize money awarded across 25 categories. The public is welcome to attend the awards reception for $25 per person. Tickets will be available for purchase at the door. Best of Show for the 10th annual Cherokee Art Market was awarded to Blackfeet Nation citizen Jackie Larson Bread and Northern Arapaho citizen Ken Williams for the beadwork entry “Fit for An Arapaho/Blackfeet Dandy.” The Cherokee Art Market will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Sequoyah Convention Center at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. Admission is $5 per person. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeeartmarket.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeeartmarket.com</a>. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa is located off Interstate 44 at exit 240. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com" target="_blank">www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com</a> or call 1-800-760-6700.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
09/14/2016 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Sept. 3, the annual Cherokee National Holiday’s Jason Christie Fishing Day attracted kids of all ages to the stocked, man-made pond east of the Cherokee Nation Complex for the “catch & release derby.” Tom Elkins, CN Environmental Programs administrator and event coordinator, said it seems as though the event gets bigger and better each year. “It amazed me, but we gave away all 600 poles, so there were over 600 kids attending,” he said. At one time, officials said the children were shoulder-to-shoulder around the pond. “I don’t know if it was the biggest (attendance) because we purposefully don’t track that, but I saw a young boy with a 3-pound channel cat(fish) in his hands,” Christie, a CN citizen and professional angler, said. He added that the event doubled the amount of fishing gear given out from the 2015 event. “The main goal to this is to introduce kids to fishing,” he said. According to his online biography, Christie has competed in local and regional tournaments. He started his tournament career fishing with various partners, including his uncles and his dad and won team tournaments. He also fished individually in pro-am events that proved to be successful and helped build his confidence as a professional angler. His big break came 2007 when he won a Stren Series event on Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach, Missouri. In the past five years, he has eight wins on a national level.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
09/12/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Nearly 100 people including shooters and their families attended the traditional cornstalk shoot during Cherokee National Holiday over the Labor Day weekend. Cornstalk shoot coordinator Richard Fields said he felt the event went great in all divisions and was happy with the turnout. “Cornstalk shoot went good, it went very good. We ran around late both days, but it was worth it. Good turnout for all divisions - kids, adults, traditional, recurve and primitive. It turned out good,” Fields said. On Sept. 3, he said there were about 40 shooters and around 20 the next day, not including those who shot during the Traditional Games on Sept. 4, which comprised of people who qualified to shoot from several community events leading up to the Cherokee National Holiday. This year was also the first time the event has given prizes for women’s traditional cornstalk shooting. “It worked out good. I’d like to see more of everybody – kids, men and women. That’s why we put the prizes in for the women. So we could start their own division. This is our first time we tried it and it looked like it was a success,” Fields said. Winning the women’s division was Gina Foreman. Andra Freeman took second place, while her sister Pogie Freeman took third. And in the men’s division, Ed Deerinwater took third place, George Lowe took second place and Chris Foreman won first place. Skiatook resident and Cherokee Nation citizen Mary Aboud said she enjoyed the traditional games and was glad to see so many people take part. “The cornstalk shoot and getting to see women and kids involved in it and into traditional games, it’s just been really cool to see,” she said. “I’d like to see more women come out and get involved into the games, into the cornstalk shoot, maybe even hatchet throwing. It looks like a lot of fun.” Fields said next year he hopes to see more prizes for the winners. “I really liked it though. Plus we found a new home. The guy who runs this (Joe Thornton Archery Range), Brian Jackson, said we (Cornstalk Society) got a new home so this is our home now,” he said. The Cornstalk Society shoots every third Saturday, and Fields said everyone is welcome to attend.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
09/12/2016 08:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – More than 150 men, women and children played in the stickball exhibition games on Sept. 3 at Sequoyah Schools’ Thompson Field as part of the 64th annual Cherokee National Holiday. Three stickball games – men’s, women’s and children – were held and those who signed up received a red or black T-shirt and were divided into two teams, East and West. All participants, male and female, were required to use stickball sticks to catch and throw the ball. Marcus Thompson, stickball exhibition coordinator, said red and black represent the colors for two of the seven directions in Cherokee culture, red for east and black for west. Children ages 17 years and younger played in a children’s exhibition game. There were 62 participants. They played four 10-minute quarters and no tackling was allowed. The West team won, 9-2. This was the second year for a children’s game at the tribe’s holiday. “For us to get these little ones out here playing like that…we need somebody to follow up and keep it going as we get older. That way, we’ll get more of them coming out and trying to play, and wanting to play stickball. (We) try to let them know why they’re playing it and where it came from,” Thompson said. Twenty-three women took the field for their game. They played in a 70-yard stretch because of the low turnout. Full-contact play was allowed. The women played two 12-minute quarters and one eight-minute quarter. Because of a “run-rule,” the game was nearly called because the West team led by a large margin at the end of the third quarter. The West team eventually won, 11-2. This is the third year in a row for a women’s exhibition stickball game. Lastly, the men took the field with 70 players. They played in a 100-yard stretch on the field and were allowed full contact. They played four 15-minute quarters, with a few minor injuries such as cuts and bruises. The East team won, 7 to 2. “I think it’s a great activity for our culture and especially for Cherokee Nation to host an event like this because stickball means a lot to our communities and to our stomp grounds,” Tonya Wapskineh, Diabetes Prevention coordinator and event volunteer coordinator, said. “This is how they stay physically active and with what I do in my department, with the Diabetes Prevention, this is really good to see a lot of people out here being active.”
BY LINDSEY BARK
Staff Writer
09/09/2016 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Family and Elderly Services provided a place for elders to come and participate in different activities during Elders Fun Day on Sept. 3 at the 64th annual Cherokee National Holiday. Held at the Place Where They Play gymnasium on the Sequoyah High School campus, elders 50 years and older were able to stop by from noon to 5 p.m. to cool off, eat a free meal, play bingo and participate in a “crazy hat” contest and talent show. Prizes for the games and contests included cookware, coffee pots, lawn chairs, a 32-inch television and food baskets. “I just enjoy the elders and all the activities that they do. I just really like it,” Margaret Tyner, Elders Fun Day volunteer, said. Elders Fun Day has been a part of the Cherokee National Holiday for about 10 years. “When we started, we started in the Tribal Complex in the conference room and it started out as a cooling station for elderly people,” Lisa James, event coordinator and Manager of Family and Elderly Services, said. “If their family came and brought them and they needed a place to sit while they went out and did some activities, they brought them in there.” From the start in that conference room, Elders Fun Day expanded as coordinators realized more and more elders showed up and stayed longer. It was moved to the Community Ballroom and eventually to the gymnasium where around 275 elders participated in the event this year. “It’s always been something close to my heart to help elders…a whole lot of us were raised by our grandparents or great-grandparents and so, I like to try to make life for them as happy as it possibly can be,” James said. “I’ve got great staff in elder services. They care about people. They work hard.”