DENVER – Phyllis J. Bigpond, founding executive director of the Denver Indian Family Resource Center from 2000 – 2009, passed away Sept. 26 after battling lymphoma of the brain since 2007.
A memorial service was held Sept. 28 at DIFRC for her Denver friends and colleagues. Services and interment were Oct. 3 in Sapulpa, Okla., where she spent her early years.
She performed many years of service to Native children and American Indian communities in Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere.
Bigpond was born Oct. 7, 1939 in Mounds, Okla., the daughter of Albert and Nellie Big Pond, of the Yuchi Tribe of Oklahoma. She attended high school at then-Haskell Institute, in Lawrence, Kan. and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, and a Master of Social Work from Washington University, St. Louis, Ill. She was a social worker for the state of Oklahoma and later was a social services representative for the BIA on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona.
Before coming to Denver in 2000, she was executive director at Phoenix Indian Center and earlier was a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University. In Phoenix she was also Arizona field officer for Save the Children and a coordinator and program development director of the Intertribal Council of Arizona. She had been a consultant for Columbia University, in New York City and for Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity, in Norman, Okla.
She received numerous honors in her lifetime. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper proclaimed July 30, 2009 “Phyllis J. Bigpond Day,” pointing out how she had “devoted her life to improving the lives of American Indian families and children,” and noting her service to the state through DIFRC and the comprehensive Indian Child Welfare Act services she initiated and provided. Her accomplishments were “the legacy for which she is hereby honored,” the mayor said.
The proclamation noted her “wisdom, generosity, tremendous commitment to the community and selfless devotion to helping people less fortunate in their lives.”
Among her many awards, Bigpond, an alumna of the Denver Community Leadership Forum, was named Outstanding Native American Leader by the Association of American Indian Social Work, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Sewanee Hunt Leadership Award from the Denver Foundation, and the 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award from Metropolitan State College of Denver.
She was preceded in death by her parents, a brother, Roy J. Bigpond, and a sister, Alice Bigpond Roach. She is survived by her sister, Ruth Bigpond Olney, Toppenish, Yakama Indian Reservation, Washington; by several nieces and nephews; and by special friends Gloria Jean Ware and Sara Whinery, both of Oklahoma, and Madonna Rogers, Denver.
Cards may be sent to Ruth Olney, 506 Linden St., Toppenish, Wash. 98948.