Holy Road: Penobscots lose tribe;s 'grandmother'

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INDIAN ISLAND, Maine - The Penobscot Indian Nation lost a beloved elder - the oldest member of the tribe - with the passing of Valentine E. Ranco (Little Deer) June 25.

Ranco, 96, was born Feb. 17, 1912, on Indian Island. She was given the name Valentine by her mother, Marie Lewis Morris, because she was expected on Valentine;s Day.

During her early years, Ranco lived on Orson Island with her grandparents, Louis and Lizzie Lolar, while her mother worked to support them. They lived a traditional life off the land, eating whatever animals they could catch to survive. Ranco's grandfather taught her to hunt and fish at an early age. When she was 5 years old, she returned to Indian Island, where she attended school taught by Catholic nuns. She spoke only Penobscot then, and had to learn English.

''We lost our tribe's grandmother,'' said Chief Kirk Francis. ''Val Ranco was our oldest tribal member and she was a fluent speaker and very, very culturally sound and she just loved her tribe. Even as she was dying ... she made it very clear that she didn't want anything canceled [during the Wabanaki Confederacy conference]. She wanted us to go on with the confederacy, which really says it all about her. She really put her tribe first. It's just a tremendous loss. These are our links to our past and she takes with her a tremendous amount of knowledge.''

Ranco and her husband, the late Leslie J. Ranco, owned and operated the Indian Moccasin shop in Wells for 53 years. Leslie Ranco died in 1979.

She enjoyed making Indian crafts, knitting, sewing, gardening, music, dancing, playing cards and board games with her grandchildren, and cooking and feeding anyone who visited.

''You can't talk to anyone who didn't love Val. She was a very generous person and certainly passed that along so at 96 you have to tip your cap to her. She died very peacefully of natural causes. She lived a long life and we can only hope we can capture some of the knowledge she left behind,'' Francis continued.

A road on Indian Island named Val Ranco Road is the road where she grew up.

Ranco is survived by a daughter, Joan (June) L. Lane of Wells; eight grandchildren, Carol A. Lane, of Kennebunkport; Barbara E. Giammarino and husband, Nicola Sr., of Springfield, Mass.; Daniel R. Lane, of Wells; Donna M. Wojtowicz and husband, Richard, of Wells; Patricia E. Lane, of Kennebunk; John Ranco and good friend John Clancy of Brookline, Mass.; Steven Ranco and wife, Amy, of Westbrook; and Joseph Ranco and wife, Cindy, of Bridgton; daughter-in-law Carole Ranco, of Westbrook; 13 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated July 3. Donations may be made in her name to The Senior Citizens Center, Penobscot Indian Reservation, Community Building, 12 Wabanaki Way, Indian Island, Old Town, ME 04468.