Myrtle Tolonen, First Women to Serve as Chair of Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Walks On

Mrytle Tolonen

Mrytle Tolonen (1935 – 1980)

Published November 15, 2015

BARAGA, MICHIGAN — Myrtle Tolonen, the first woman to serve as chair of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, based in Baraga, Michigan, walked-on on Friday, November 13, 2015. In addition to serving the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community with distinction, she a two-time breast cancer survivor and a breast cancer advocate. Mrs. Tolonen was 80.

She was politically active in tribal affairs and became the first woman tribal chair of the  Keweenaw Bay Indian Community(KBIC) in 1984. She served until 1985 and then another term from 1988-1989. Mrs. Tolonen served on many boards including the Cultural Committee, Indian Child Welfare, Education, and was a student at the Bay Mills Language Emersion.

Born April 28, 1935 in Zeba, Michigan, daughter to George and Charlotte (Blaker) Matthews. Myrtle graduated from high school in 1953. Her first job was for Mini Sands Restaurant in L’Anse, then she lived in Chicago and worked as a secretary. She married Donald E. Tolonen Sr. on March 26, 1955 in L’Anse, Michigan. After marrying they resided in Dearborn, Michigan. The couple moved back to L’Anse, near tribal lands, in 1972 and in 1974 she started working in the enrollment department for the Tribe.

Surviving are her sons, Glenn Tolonen of Zeba and Tyler Tolonen of L’Anse; daughter Cheryl (Donald) Denomie of Baraga; brother Albert W. (Elsie) Matthews of Athelstane, WI; sister Elizabeth C. Matthews of Zeba; grandchildren, Charlotte, Trista, Beth, Joe, Christian, Brigitte, Cheryne, Shawnee, Ashley, Keith, Kevin, Cally, Carmen, Jeffery, Samantha, Raymond, Glenn Jr., Macee; great grandchildren, Tristan, Caden, Makenna, Joey, Johnathan, Donovan, Daniel, Cara, Darryn, Easton, Brody, and Izzy; special friend Mary LaRose; her caregiver and special friend Natalie Mleko of Baraga; and numerous nieces and nephews.. Preceding her in death are her parents; husband Donald Sr.; sons Donald Jr and John Tolonen; siblings, Amos Whetung, Sarah Shelifoe, Donald Whetung, Theodore Whetung, Matthew Whetung, Glen Matthews, Dorothy Belmore, and Baby sister Whetung.

Her wake will start on Monday, November 16th at 5:00 p.m. at the KBIC Zeba Hall and continue overnight. Her traditional funeral service will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 17th at the Zeba Hall. Burial will be in the Pinery Cemetery.

CORRECTED and UPDATED: Sunday,  4:24 pm – EST.

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