Ronnie Lupe was born in the early morning hours Jan. 1, 1930, while celebration gun fire was abound in the distant background inside an Apache shelter known as a “Wickiup” in Cibecue. He was raised in the Apache Wickiup in the early days of his childhood. He was content with Apache foods, speaking only the Apache language, and being with his family.
Around the age of 10, he and his brother were sent away by their parents in hopes to explore education through the Catholic Church at Santa Fe, New Mexico. He and his brother tried to remember the roads so that they could escape and return back to Cibecue, but it was too far. It was there that young Ronnie learned the English language, a grasp of mathematics, and also realized his athletic ability. He became a good boxer and only lost to older bigger kids. His education started rough and painful and at times was punished for speaking Apache. But he continued onward and graduated from St. Johns High School in Laveen. He won a few awards with distinction.
Thereafter, Mr. Lupe entered the workforce in the Phoenix area working in construction and visited home from time to time. News of the Korean war broke out. He and his friend heard that all males would get drafted. So one day they volunteered and joined the United States Marine Corps to avoid being placed elsewhere by the government. Ronnie informed his parents and they were proud that a family member would be in the military. They got a Protection Warrior-way Ceremony for Ronnie. He was armed with prayers as was done for his ancestors previously. He quickly went to boot camp and was sent to Korea from San Diego. He was on the frontline battlefield for two years. He was a member of the 1st Marine Division; Item Company; 3rd Battalion; 1st Marines Regiment. After a year of furious combat, he was glad to return to San Francisco. At first, he had a tough time returning to civilian life, but adjusted better after being “undressed” by the same Medicine Man that prayed for him before the war.
Ronnie returned to Phoenix to seek employment. He found decent jobs and saved money. One day, he decided to apply to Arizona State College in Tempe before it became Arizona State University and was accepted. The classes were affordable and he took on this new challenge. He gained his most valuable insight in a Speech class and became a polished young speaker. Although he did not graduate, he got a good paying job with Public Accounting in Phoenix. He learned strict accounting principles and sometimes stayed late at night until the books were balanced. These lessons would help him in the future.
In the late 1950’s, Ronnie eventually returned home because his mother asked him to. He had many jobs throughout the reservation. He was a chain puller at a sawmill in McNary known as Southwest Forest Industries, a carpenter at Hawley Lake, a D-9 heavy equipment operator in Whiteriver, and worked in an office doing accounting work. He also married Vera Cruz in Holbrook, Arizona in the late 1950’s. They had ice cream together afterwards to celebrate. They were together for 58 years.
In 1964, he ran for office and won in the community of East Fork where he resided with his wife Vera which is in District III. He and his father both served on the Tribal Council together, a proud quiet moment for both. The Tribal Council was dominated by strong, strict elders. He was quickly recognized as a polished communicator in the English language as well as Apache.
In 1966, the same elders encouraged him to run for Chairman. He did and won again! His main causes in leadership were ensuring that the federal government fulfilled its obligation of Self-Determination for Tribes, Tribal Sovereignty, and Trust Responsibilities. He became a Champion of Indian people nationwide in that arena.
Chairman Ronnie Lupe would eventually win the seat for the Office of the Chairman nine times, an unprecedented and historic feat. He also served as a member of the Tribal Council for 10 years. A few times he would only serve for two years because he reclaimed and was re-elected to the Chairman position.
Here are just a few accolades of his success. 1966-70 – Memorial Hall, John F. Kennedy School, Sunrise Ski Park, Tribal Council Chambers, paved road to Cibecue, Reservation Lake, and Sunrise Lake.
- 1974-86 – KNNB Apache Radio, Cibecue Complex, Whiteriver Commercial Center, New Whiteriver Hospital and Fairgrounds, Scholarship Fund, Cibecue Cottonwood Gym and Commercial Center, Hawley Lake Cabins and Hon-dah Homesites returned to the Tribe, and Housing projects and black-top roads in all communities.
- 1990-98 – Reduced Annual Allowable Cut while increasing FATCO profits, Head Start expansion, Health Benefits and Retirement Savings Plan, Permanent Trust Fund, Five-lane highway, Hon-dah Resort and Casino, increased funding to allow Chief Alchesay Activity Center, Executive Offices Building, and Whiteriver and Cibecue Fire Stations, negotiated a Statement of Relationship between the WMAT and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that led to a nationwide Secretarial Order requiring the Secretary of Interior to consult with Tribes before applying the Endangered Species Act on their lands.
- 2006-2018 – Regional Wastewater Treatment System, Quantification of WMAT Water Rights Agreement, Financial Recovery Plan instituted, Apache Alliance Presidency, Housing expansion, Presidential Advisory Board Northern Arizona University, RV Park expansion, Hon-dah Ski and Outdoor Shop, Annual Audit Recovery, and Diamond Creek Water Treatment Plant.
Chairman Ronnie Lupe peacefully passed away at 2:10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, at his daughter’s home at Over-the-Rainbow Community. His children are Jackie Lupe, Geraldine Lupe, Caroline Lupe Altaha, Vonda Lupe, and Monte Lupe. He was preceded in death by his wife, Vera C. Lupe and son Titus Lupe.
May God bless each and every one of you.
A one night wake will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 16, at the family home 205 N. 5th Avenue in Whiteriver. Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Chief Alchesay Activity Center. The burial will follow in the Dove Street Cemetery in East Fork.
Owens Livingston Mortuary of Show Low handled arrangements. For those who have special memories and would like to send private condolences or sign an online guest book, visit www.owenslivingstonmortuary.com.