Kate Mondragon – an everyday hero

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

“Shate Wasti Wia” means “good-hearted woman,” and that’s how Kate Mondragon is known to the Lakota Sioux at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Pine Ridge is not just “another reservation.” It’s the eighth largest reservation in the US and is reputed to be one of the poorest places in the United States with 61% of the population living below the poverty level; 80% are unemployed. The per-capita income is about $4,000.

Health statistics reflect the extreme poverty and hunger: the rate of diabetes is 8 times the norm for the US; heart disease is twice as prevalent; cervical cancer is 5 times greater than the rest of the country; TB is 8 times as common. Alcoholism is as high as 80%, and 25% of the babies born show the effects of alcohol in their systems.

Suicide is extremely high, as is infant mortality. Haiti is the only place in the Western Hemisphere with a lower life expectancy, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Kate knows it on a more personal level. As a result of selling a house to a couple in Parker years ago, Kate met a Lakota woman from Manderson, South Dakota, who adopted Kate as a sister to replace the one who had died. It’s a tradition amongst the Lakota.

She says that, aside from a convenience store, there’s a school and a church in Manderson, but it’s 40 miles to the closest grocery store, 40 miles to the closest gas station.

For more than 10 years – perhaps closer to 15 – Kate has made it a Thanksgiving tradition to collect turkeys and other donations of food and household items to deliver to the Pine Ridge Reservation. She hands them out personally, driving along the roads, stopping at trailers and run-down homes she comes across.

Co-workers at ReMax Alliance nominated Kate – and she was selected – to be one of Channel 7’s Everyday Heroes. Newscaster Mitch Jelniker showed up at the Tuesday morning sales meeting on November 19th to make the announcement to Kate, presenting her with a plaque. To say she was shocked would be an understatement.

Kate solicits donations of food and paper products from co-workers, friends, and anyone who seems receptive. But it’s the women of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) who really make it happen, insists Kate.

This year there were 41 turkeys and 39 boxes of food items that made their way to South Dakota. ReMax employees led the way with donating paper towels, toilet paper, and diapers. But the 40 or so women of Mountain Rendezvous DAR collected the turkeys and $599 in cash to purchase other items for a Thanksgiving dinner. The DAR women don’t just donate money for someone else to do the work. They do the shopping, deliver the goods to Kate’s garage, and then pack the items into boxes.

It’s become part of an initiative to promote awareness of the issues surrounding American Indians, with hunger, poverty and literacy being at the top of the list. DAR member Mary Lou O’Donnell had worked with Kate for about 10 years and was familiar with her annual pilgrimage to South Dakota. It was Mary Lou who suggested that Mountain Rendezvous DAR might team up with the project.

“It’s very dear to their hearts, part of their Thanksgiving to support this effort,” said Marlene Waltz, DAR Chapter Regent, indicating that many of the members are involved. “Some members have supported reservations in other ways; some have more personal relationships. Because of past connections, it’s particularly meaningful.”

“Thanksgiving is a perfect time to touch people’s hearts and ask them to give,” commented Barb MacDonald, another DAR member, acknowledging that Kate is the driving force behind the food drive each year, the person who puts a face to it all. “And they give generously.”

You can catch the airing of the segment on Kate Mondragon on Channel 7 on one of the following dates:

  • Thursday, Nov. 28, 11 am (Thanksgiving Day)
  • Saturday, Nov 30, 5 pm
  • Sunday, Dec. 1, 7 am

To learn more about Kate Mondragon, the good-hearted woman, click here to read a profile on her and what she's done locally, published in in 2011.

Photo above provided.  That's Kate on her knees with the turkey. Standing: Karen Mill, Robert Mill and Alice Thompson