Local woman receives Oklahoma AARP Indian Elder Honor
Julia Wilson, a member of the Osage Nation, was recently honored at the 5th Annual AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors. The event was held at the Oklahoma Cowboy Hall of Fame.
She joined a distinct group of Native Americans who were recognized for their contributions to their respective Tribes and communities. Other honorees included Charles Lookout, an Osage Tribal leader and WWII veteran, along with members of the Absentee Shawnee, Alabama-Quassarte, Caddo, Cherokee, Cheyenne-Arapaho, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Citizen Potawatomi, Comanche, Euchee, Iowa, Kaw, Keetoowah, Kickapoo, Kiowa, Miami, Modoc, Muscogee Creek, Otoe-Missouri, Ottawa, Pawnee, Ponca, Seminole, Shawnee, Thlopthlocco & Muscogee, and Wichita & Affiliated.
“I was totally surprised when I received the phone call from Mashell Sourjohn advising me I had been chosen to be an honoree for the AARP Indian Elder program,” said Wilson. “At first I thought the call was another solicitation. At the time, Mashell wouldn’t tell me who nominated me. I later learned it was my sweet daughter-in-law Melanie Kirk.
“I felt so humbled. It was truly an overwhelming experience. There were so many people being honored that had done so much for their country and for their tribes. Some were full bloods. Many of the elders were involved in their tribe’s diabetic and substance abuse programs. A number were World War II veterans. I loved learning about their experiences and being in the presence of folks who have given so much of themselves for others. I was honored that my husband (Jim), son Tom and Melanie could accompany me to this event.
When AARP State Director Sean Voskuhl introduced Wilson, he said “This lady has the best personality of anybody I know.”
After Voskuhl mentioned she was a 16-year breast cancer survivor, the crowd erupted in applause. Wilson said, “They made me feel like one of the veterans being honored. It was truly a wonderful evening.”
Wilson was working for Osage Federal when she was diagnosed with her breast cancer. Soon, she became actively involved with Relay for Life in Pawhuska and Bartlesville. Eventually, Wilson became a mentor to others in the Pawhuska community who developed breast cancer.
“There were so many in our town that we formed a sisterhood of sorts,” she said. “I became their big sister and we made an extended family.”
Following a 15-year career with Osage Federal, Wilson retired. She and Jim began enjoying travel while maintaining volunteer efforts throughout the community. Wilson is currently Corresponding Secretary for the Pawhuska Educational Trust Foundation, Chairman of the Osage Nation Housing Board, and Treasurer for the French Ambassadors. She is active in the First Baptist Church, GFWC Heeko, EM PEO, is a Director for the Osage County Historical Society, and works for the Osage County Election Board. She was also a Director for the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce, worked on the Osage Nation Election Board and the annual Helping Hand project sponsored by the Pawhuska Kiwanis Club.
Wilson is the daughter of Walter and Della Lessert. Her dad was an original allottee and owned the 7-L Ranch in Hominy until she was born.
“I was a big surprise to my parents,” said Wilson. “Daddy was 56 and decided to move our family to town after my birth. I had a wonderful childhood.”
With their blended families, Jim and Julia have five children, eleven grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. Two of their granddaughters, Kari Sawyer and Kristen Morrison, were princesses for the Delaware Pow Wow.
Overall, medallions were presented to fifty Native American elders for their contributions as tribal leaders, role models, historians, volunteers, businessmen and women, educators, and counselors. Honorees included authors, artists, veterans, police, and storytellers. Their contributions extended to the ministry, preservation of Native American culture, health and nutrition.
Wilson was recognized for her contributions as an active community volunteer and role model. As a breast cancer survivor, she continues to be an inspiration to others and is actively involved in walks and other functions that help fund breast cancer research and awareness.