Simplified: The Sioux Falls school board on Monday unanimously approved the name of the new northwest elementary school: Marcella LeBeau Elementary. It's named after LeBeau, a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, World War II veteran and long-time nurse known for her spirit of service.

How was the name selected?

The name was chosen by a committee of 25 people – including representatives from students, teachers, parents, community members, administrators and representation from the school board.

Who is Marcella LeBeau?

Here, let me defer to Anna Brokenleg, who leads the district's Office of Indian Education, for a succinct bio.

"Marcella LeBeau was not only an indigenous matriarch and elder, but also an inspirational figure whose legacy continues to resonate deeply within our community."

LeBeau was born in 1919 in Promise, South Dakota – a very small (unincorporated) town along the Missouri River on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

She lived for more than a century, during which time she

  • became an army lieutenant during World War II,
  • served as a nurse treating soldiers during D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge,
  • came back to South Dakota where she worked another three-plus decades as a nurse,
  • and received numerous awards, honors and recognitions along the way.

Tell me more

LeBeau shared her stories of military service in a 2019 interview with the American Veterans Center. She details some of what she encountered as an Army nurse who treated soldiers after both the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day. You can watch the full interview here.

  • (Note: The video is 40 minutes long, but I couldn't bring myself to turn it off – it was so captivating. If you only have a couple minutes, I recommend fast-forwarding to about the 38-minute mark and catching the story she shares at the end.)

In that interview, LeBeau shared that she was drawn to nursing because her mother died when she was very young.

  • LeBeau recalled visiting her mother in the hospital and the feeling of satisfaction from being able to bring her a glass of water when she asked for one.
"I think it the mere fact that I was able to help someone and that satisfaction that i received from being able t0 help someone – I think that kind of led me toward the nursing field," LeBeau said.

LeBeau also shared some of the challenges she faced as a Native American woman in South Dakota, from boarding school to encountering racism when she returned from the Army.

  • She recalled seeing signs that said "No Indians or dogs allowed" in bar windows upon her return to Rapid City after WWII.
"I never experienced any discrimination at all in the service," LeBeau said. "They accepted me for what I was able to do, and then I came back to South Dakota, my state, and saw the sign."

What was the school board response?

Dawn Marie Johnson – the first Native American woman to serve on the Sioux Falls school board – wept upon hearing LeBeau's name recommended for the school.

  • Johnson shared that she didn't encounter her first Native American educator until college, and that she's so grateful that so many Sioux Falls kids now will be able to see LeBeau's example.
"To know that there's going to be kids able to go into this school and see somebody that looks like them, that's positive, means so much," Johnson said.

What's next for the new elementary school?

The building is currently under construction, and it's projected to open in the fall of 2025.

Now that it's got a name, the next steps will be to hire a principal, who will then lead the effort to select school colors, a mascot, etc, Superintendent Jane Stavem said Monday.