ELDER RECOGNITION: Ramona Ingerson
LCO News: So where did you grow up, were you on the reservation your whole life?
Mona: No, I only came back to the Rez. I was born here and I spent a couple of years here during the war. World War II. My mom and dad met in Chicago. She was a sailor, and she was working in a munitions factory or something. They would tell her, if you don't do this right, somebody's going to die. If you don't make your bullet right, or whatever. And they had those mandatory go out and exercise things and all that stuff. She didn't like it, so she went to work as a secretary someplace for a little while. They got married. She came back home to have me, and we stayed here until the war was over. And then he took leave and got her and me and went to Georgia.
LCO News: Did he have family in Georgia?
Mona: Yeah, he's from Georgia. So, I went to kindergarten in Georgia, and they didn't like me. They chased me home with rocks every day because I would start conflicts. Well, they thought I was black. Going to a white school can't do that. We moved around a lot.
LCO News: Was he still in the service after the war? Did he stay?
Mona: No, he's a chef cook. He didn't go to formal training. And my mom also, they both worked as a cooks. That was Atlanta. And then we moved to Griffin, Georgia, to a Dry County. So, they both got jobs at the Moose Club, because if you're in a club, you can drink. And so, they were the cooks there for all their functions. By that time, I was nine. And so, I'd sit on a stool, and I would peel potatoes for a 30 gallon. Then I don't know. Moved around some more. Went to Baton Rouge for a little while, then went to New Orleans. So, I grew up more in New Orleans, and then we would come up here on the summer, at least up until I was 15.
LCO News: So, you went through junior high in New Orleans?
Mona: Yeah. When we first moved to New Orleans, my dad tried to register us in the school. Okay. And he told them that were Natives, and they didn't know what to do with that, so they were going to classify us as black, because down south you're either black or you're white. And my dad said no. The biggest reason for the no is the quality of the school, and it wasn't as good as the white. So, he tried being nice and get that changed and they wouldn't talk to him. So, I don't know where I get this, but my dad got mad and he busted in to the mayor's office during a meeting and demanded I have a paper at home that says I am not black.
LCO News: So, with school. Did you do any sports?
Mona: No, I was terrible at sports, but I was in clubs. I was in a talent show. I couldn't take dance lessons, but my girlfriend did, so she would come home and teach me. And so, we won the talent show in 7th grade. Mostly because our spangles kept flying off as were shaking our shoulders. I think that's why we won. They probably thought it was on purpose. So, then my aunt died, and her wish was, I think she had $500. She wanted my mom to have it, to move home in the 70s. That was a lot of money. So, she did. She got up to Minneapolis. Anyway, that's where my Aunt Dani Girl was living. My Aunt Grace was living up here, but mom lived there, and she worked in a hospital right down the street. Cooking.
LCO News: Where did you meet your husband?
Mona: I met him in New Orleans, actually. Yeah, I lived upstairs, he lived downstairs, and he had a car. We were living in a project, so that's a big deal to have a car. So, then we moved up here. My mom did. Yeah, and he worked in a gas station. I worked as a waitress, and things didn't go so well, so he needed to leave. So, I needed to get something better. So, I'd waitress in the morning and go to school at night. This was in Minneapolis. I looked in the paper to see who's always getting hired because there were some job tightening’s. There weren't too many jobs, but they always wanted a secretary. So, I said, okay, I'll go to secretarial school and we'll go from there. So, I did. I had a hard time learning shorthand because they would say the word and I'm repeating it in my head, but I would repeat it in my head in a Southern accent, so I had too many vowels in there. And so, the teachers were going to fail me because of that. So then I graduated from there and I went to work at the phone company, and I stayed there for 29 and a half years. It was Northwestern Bell at the time. I lived through the divorce. That's what I call it. I call it divorce. Then I moved around in the phone company. I had lots of jobs, but my security and everything went with me, so that was great.
I started out as a secretary to a district manager, so I used my skills. And they promoted me to run a housekeeping group. So, I became supervisor. I ran a crew of like 15. When I was a secretary. I was managing the budget for 27 managers in five states. And then they asked me if I wanted to take this job in St. Paul, running that building. And it was a promotion and a raise. And when I said a raise, yeah, for sure. After that, I had no idea where St. Paul was, and I didn't drive. They had a good bus service.
I did a stint in personnel for a while. I'm jumping around here because I remember what all I did. So, I worked in personnel, then I went into contracts. I got out of the cleaning business. I went into contracts. So, I managed some contracts after the divorce. This was in 84 then, and so I did contracts.
LCO News: Not your divorce, the company's?
Mona: Divorce, company. One of my last jobs I was doing is I go in and I'd move people out. I'd have to find a place to live in their offices. I move them out of that office and scrunch them up, so they were mad. And then I go in and redesign their floor. Not by myself. There were like 75 people on that floor. So, I moved those 75 out rearranged and painted and did all fancy stuff, and then I put 110 in there. I didn't particularly like it, but I was 2% in my budget, so I managed the money well. Yeah, but I was a female doing a male job in a male oriented thing. You had to get tough to be able to deal with those guys. And then it's like, enough. The stress of that job was just horrendous, really. So, I decided I was going to retire. I retired a little early. I took a bump on my pension, but I'd be dead if I hadn't done that. And then I said, I want to live up north. I've always wanted to live up north. My mom would get mad at me when I was a kid.
I wanted to come up here, so it took me a lifetime to get up here. I like being here.
LCO News: Any siblings?
Mona: I have four brothers and a sister. One brother is gone. I’m the oldest. So, I used to babysit them, take care of them. My youngest brother still to this day, but he gets excited. He calls me mom. My mom was working all the time.
LCO News: And yourself?
Moan: I have four children, one son, my oldest, and then three daughters They were up here just a couple of weeks ago to get my house all cleaned and ready for winter. That's great.
LCO News: What hobbies do you have to keep you busy, besides Koobies and going to tribal council meetings?
Mona: I’m on the health board and used to be on the housing board. I also write the newsletter, I help put together from among many contributors. I like to read. I have three books going right now. I like mystery and spy books, they help me get out some aggressions. I do sew a little bit too, but I’m not very good at beading.
I’ve spent 23 years in the LCO Ojibwe School and all those years sitting in the second grade until this last year, I’m in with the first graders. I love those kids, they are so honest and they can say the darndest things. I asked this one girl, what you going to be when you grow up and she said I’m going to be a writer and that’s a good thing because I know a lot of words. So cute.
I’m one of the founding members of Koobies and Faith and I were sitting there looking at this corner and said you know what, we should do a coffee shop. That was 5 years ago. We talked with a lot of elders and they liked that idea. 20 elders got together and each invested, that’s what we started with.
We also sell jewelry here for community members and we don’t take any commission on the consignment. They get it all. Money we do make, we donate it all. We donate to scholarships, and the Boys and Girls Club. We helped a person whose house burned, so we gave them some money to help them. Things like that. We helped a woman to move closer to town because her husband was sick and had to be closer to an ambulance. We helped her with moving expenses.
LCO News: Any cultural things you want to instill in the kids?
Mona: I didn’t have a lot of exposure myself until I moved up here. Then I danced, traditional style, but then my knee didn’t want to work. My girls not so much, but my granddaughter did and now she’s an adult. I decided to teach them the 7 teachings. If you can live by that, you’ll have a good life, if not, you won’t live a good life.
LCO News: Any life lessons you’d like to tell your great great grandchildren 7 generations from now?
Mona: Just to follow the 7 teachings. And if for everyone you like, your parents, grandparents, f you don’t think they’d be proud of what you’re doing, then don’t do it.