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Contagious, infectious, boisterous laugh are descriptions posted over and over on social media from relatives, friends and colleagues as they describe who Jomay Steen, Cheyenne River Sioux, was to them. Many people also noted she always wore a smile.

Steen, 61, died on July 10 at the Cheyenne River Health Center, an Indian Health Service hospital in Eagle Butte, South Dakota.

Her sudden death saddened her family and the journalism community.

It was an “electric shock” to Shirley Ragsdale, a former co-worker at the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“There was no person more joyful or alive than Jomay Steen. A superb writer, a kind and loving friend,” she said. “A quick wit with a laugh that would light up a room.”

Jack Marsh said she was a “a kind and caring person with a contagious laugh, a nearly perpetual smile and always a positive attitude.”

She use to be an intern reporter with the newspaper. Marsh, who was executive editor then at the Argus Leader, hired Steen as a general news reporter for the newspaper in Sioux Falls from 1998 to 2003. She started reporting for the Rapids Journal in 2003.

Jomay Steen with the Argus Leader newsroom.

Jomay Steen with the Argus Leader newsroom.

John-John Williams IV, another former coworker at the Argus Leader, talked about one memory of them both.

“She was such a bright light and such an asset to have in newsrooms,” he said. “I’ll never forget the time we almost got stuck in fresh tar while trying to navigate our way back from a conference in South Dakota.”

The devoted teacher and journalist divided her career between both disciplines, and even combined both passions.

She was a faculty member and mentor at the Crazy Horse Journalism Workshop for high school students, an alumna of Freedom Forum’s Chips Quinn Scholars Program for Diversity in Journalism and the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota.

Her involvement in all of the programs was a “privilege,” said Marsh.

"Multimedia journalist Jomay Steen with AIJI instructor Joe Grimm."

"Multimedia journalist Jomay Steen with AIJI instructor Joe Grimm."

Steen graduated from South Dakota State University in 1980. She started her teaching career in Helena and Billings, Montana, as a VISTA volunteer for two years. From 1983 to 1996, she went on to teach at Bridger Day School, and then Cherry Creek Day School and Takini School.

She returned to the university for her journalism degree, her second degree, after teaching where Doris Giago was one of her many instructors.

“She was a natural storyteller and a great writer,” Giago said. “[Jomay] enriched our lives so much.”

Another professor, Mary Perpich, said Steen was “remarkable in many ways.”

Teaching was Steen’s “first love” as she went back to it in 2011 where she taught at Rock Creek Grant School in Bullhead and Stand Rock Indian School in Fort Yeats until 2016.

Her siblings are her sister LouAnn Steen, nephews Chris and Gene Steen, niece Bobbi Jo Misar, her husband Mark, and her children Lani, Jase, and Marty Joe.

Steen was preceded in death by Albert and Lila steen, her parents.

She was born on May 24, 1958 in Faith Hospital in Faith, South Dakota. She graduated from Faith High School in 1976.

A memorial scholarship fund is being established in honor of Steen at South Dakota State University in the School of Communication and Journalism, according to Steen’s relatives and university’s foundation. This scholarship will help Native students pursuing their journalism degrees.

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Donations can be made at the website. Type in “Jomay Steen Memorial Scholarship” under the “Gift in honor or memory” section of the form.

Checks can also be mailed to the university: SDSU Foundation, 815 Medary Avenue, Box 525 Brookings, SD 57007.

Her cousin Kathleen Krause said they sent up the scholarship “so her name wouldn’t be forgotten.”

“She made friends with everybody that she met,” Krause said. “She was one of those people that comes into your life and you never ever forget her.”

A gathering to celebrate Steen’s life will be held on July 20 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. MST at Legion Hall in Faith, South Dakota. 

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: