RESERVATION -- More than 300 relatives, tribal members and friends
gathered Saturday to celebrate the 85th birthday of one of the tribe's
most beloved elders.
party at the Nisqually Tribal Center was a surprise for Blanche
Simmons, who walked into the large room thinking she was attending
a Hawaiian luau with strings of red and gold balloons and a feast
menu that included kalua pig, crab and lomi salmon.
has been a well-kept secret," said her sister, Zelma McCloud, 75,
a playful grin on her face. "She doesn't even have a clue."
she was caught by surprise, Simmons wasn't about to let on.
entering the room with her son, John, she didn't miss a beat before
hugging and thanking well-wishers, having her picture taken and
working her way around the room to greet everyone as if she were
throwing the party.
of her family members journeyed from California and Oregon to attend.
than 80 years haven't quelled the feisty spirit that family members
and friends say keeps her busy with tasks around the reservation.
just mad at everybody because I told them not to do this," Simmons
three tribal elders are older than Simmons. The oldest, Marie Haws,
will turn 89 next month.
is the daughter of a former chief of the Nisqually tribe, Peter
Kalama. Her son, John, is a former tribal chairman.
grandfather, John Kalama, was a full-blooded Hawaiian who left the
islands at age 16 to work on one of the fur-trading vessels that
sailed to the Northwest in the early 1830s. He eventually married
Mary Martin, daughter of the Nisqually chief. The river and city
off Interstate 5 are named after him.
who has lived her entire life on the reservation, is a descendant
of Queen Kalama, a governor of the former island nation during the
the 1970s, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to ensure the protection
of the tribe's fishing rights, her son said.
decades later, Simmons helped regain free access for tribal members
to Rainier National Park, where they traditionally gathered medicinal
plants and huckleberries.
tribal members, Simmons is known for her homemade huckleberry pie
and clam chowder. She and her late husband, Jack, constantly fished
the river and dug for clams.
would drive pots full of her clam chowder and fry bread in the back
of her pickup to ball fields and fireworks stands throughout the
area and feed hungry attendants and ballplayers free of charge,
her son said.
all knew her truck and when she was coming," he said.
Wells, whose husband, Reuben, is one of Simmons' nephews, described
Simmons as hardy and independent.
sews, crochets and helps cook the tribal elders' dinner, including
fish stew, three times a week. She makes and sells hats and other
items at local bazaars through the year, Wells said.
always busy," she said. "Whenever I turn around, she's making some
new thing people want to buy."