Lillian Calico Vallely
(October 1, 1921—January 5, 1998)
Until recently, the Lillian Vallely School community thought there had never been a published account of its school’s namesake and her life on this earth. Countless Google searches had proven fruitless; even Lillian Vallely School co-founders Bishop John and Jan Thornton had no diaries or written accounts of their long and special friendship with Lillian. Just innumerable fond memories and a copy of the funeral eulogy +John delivered.
“You can’t be serious,” a friend of the school recently commented. “Nothing has ever been published about Lillian?”
It motivated the leaders of this private elementary day school—serving Native American children who live on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Southeastern Idaho—to search its cabinets and closets another time or two until the proverbial light bulb finally went off.
Right under its nose has been the greatest resource of all, one of Lillian’s daughters, Colleen Blaylock. Now a resident of Tempe, Arizona, Colleen has been a faithful supporter of LVS and currently serves as Secretary of the school’s Board of Directors. She was contacted for “more information” about her mother; and, quite cooperatively, she searched for and found a copy of an article from a small Native American weekly newspaper in Fort Hall, Idaho called Sho-Ban News, written by Lucille Edmo and published in May 1995.
The headline read, “Vallely To Become Ordained Deacon May 17th.”
It is now confirmed that glorious event did occur on schedule, in 1995, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Pocatello, Idaho. A lot was known about Lillian during that later period of her life but, sadly, not much about her early and formative years. Between the chronology of Lillian’s life gleaned from the newspaper article and a personal conversation with Colleen Blaylock, there is now a fuller story—and three marvelous pictures.
Lillian Calico Vallely was born October 1, 1921, on the Fort Hall Reservation, to Leon and Minnie Gunn Calico. Her father raised horses and planted alfalfa for horse feed and sale. Leon was a hard-working man and went about his business the old-fashioned way—using horses and rakes, not bailers—to farm about twenty-five acres of land on an area of the reservation known as the Fort Hall Bottoms. (Today, having survived grave ecosystem dangers in the 1980s and ’90s, this wetland area is a premier hunting and fishing destination.)
The couple raised five children: Lillian, her brothers Finlay and Stanley, and her sisters Dorothy (LeClair) and Esther (Farmer). Finlay ‘died young,’ but the four remaining siblings remained on the reservation all their lives. Lillian first grew up in a white house that still stands today on the other side of Simplot Road from the Shoshone Bannock Hotel and Fort Hall Casino. She remained at that house while she raised two infant children, her daughter Colleen and her son, Colin.
Lillian strived for a career, too, and enrolled at Idaho State University in Pocatello, first in the nursing program and later in the business school. The stress and strain Lillian must have felt while raising two babies and being a full-time student most likely explains why Colleen and Colin went to live with a great aunt named Myrtle Calico Nevada, a person known to them only as “grandma.” Native Americans never refer to their blood relatives as great aunt or great uncle; rather grandma or grandpa. Similarly, cousins are always referred to as brothers or sisters.
Lillian married Lloyd Vallely in 1945, and the newlyweds moved into the more “urban” part of Fort Hall—what locals refer to as “townsite”—complete with a service station, grocery store and café. Colleen and Colin, who don’t remember their biological father, came too. Lloyd is the only father they ever knew. They had four half-siblings, born to Lloyd and Lillian, three of whom still live on the reservation: Jeneen Miller, Sharron Meeks and Leslie Vallely. Dale Wayne Vallely is deceased.
Lillian raised this blended family and worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs over thirty years as a supply clerk, helping in areas like real estate, equipment, supplies and materials. She was always a practicing Episcopalian, but upon retirement, she ramped up her participation in the church on a number of levels.
From 1980-1981, Lillian served as chairman of the Indian Committee for Province VIII of the Episcopal Church, a group of eighteen dioceses, including Idaho, and the Missionary District of Navajoland. This committee addressed issues of justice and racial discrimination brought before them.
In 1982-1983, Lillian became Chairman of the National Committee on Indian Work, an agency of the Episcopal Church established in 1970 to provide leadership to Indians as they seek more real involvement in the life and work of the Church.
For the next sixteen years and until her death, Lillian served on the Episcopal Council of Indian Ministry. This committee is a liaison to the executive branch of the Episcopal Church. Its goal is to have the National Church recognize Indian culture and self-determination, insure that they have a voice in the Episcopal Church on policies and procedures, and to respect their culture and traditions.
Lillian also kept busy as a volunteer in the Fort Hall community, serving as treasurer for both the Men’s Basketball Tournament and the annual Shoshone-Bannock Festival and Pow Wow, and she also served as a docent at the Shoshone-Bannock Museum.
Lillian was always connected to her one and only place of worship, The Good Shepard Mission at Fort Hall. She was a lay reader for many years; baked Bannock bread for communion; served on the vestry for ten years and became its senior warden; and travelled extensively to national and regional meetings as the mission’s representative.
For three years, the mission was without a priest, so lay readers, including Lillian, officiated at Morning Prayer services. It was during this time that Lillian received her calling to become a deacon in the Episcopal Church.
In November 1991, Lillian began her diaconal training. She attended the Diocese of Idaho’s Formation for Ministry program, traveling far and wide across Idaho to prepare for ordination. More than three years later, on May 17, 1995—Mothers’ Day—Lillian Vallely made her Declaration of Conformity and was ordained a deacon by then Idaho Episcopal Bishop John Thornton.
The Celebration of Lillian Vallely’s ordination. Front row, Deacon Lillian Vallely. Back row, from left, Owanah Anderson, a Choctaw and head of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Indian Ministry; The Rev. Joan LaLiberte; Deacon Janice Nacki Atcitty; and Bishop John Thornton.
The bond between the new deacon and the bishop grew. They discussed quality of life issues on the reservation. Some of the Shoshone elders, led by Lillian, asked Bishop John to start a school where their grandchildren could go to receive quality education; a school where a child could develop a life-long love of learning; a school to reinforce community involvement; and a school where the children would be taught about faith and values. The elders thought perhaps the school could be started in the old school building, which had been closed for many years, but which still stood next to the Episcopal church on the reservation. It was where some of the elders, including Lillian, had gone to school when they were children.
The rest, including the decision by the school’s leaders to include a cultural component to the curriculum so that the children could be proud of their rich heritage, is history.
Unfortunately, Lillian died just a few weeks prior to the start of the very first semester on January 20, 1998, but as the leader of the elders had requested of the Thorntons, this ‘school of dreams’ opened bearing her name.
“She exuded love and was so close to her faith,” said proud daughter, Colleen. “When all else failed, she would just go walk as Jesus walked, in love and truth.”
There is a great trust that students of Lillian Vallely School—past, present and future— will do the same, wherever they may be, wherever they go, whatever challenges they face.
– Stuart Hotchkiss (Boise, Idaho)