Most everyone in and around Ashland, Ore., know Agnes Baker Pilgrim. According to the Medford Register-Guard, Pilgrim is the oldest living descendant of the Takelma people and serves as a Native American spiritual elder and indigenous stateswoman and the likeness of the 20-foot-tall wooden totem-style sculpture that greets visitors in downtown Ashland.
Not many people knew the 88-year-old was struggling to make ends meet.
But when word got out, the community stepped up.
“A group of people in Southern Oregon and other places help to pay Grandma’s bills and rent every month, but now her bills and rent have gone up in the last few years, and the amount of people who donate has dwindled because the economy is bad.”
As September approached, there were no funds in the account, so DiMicele decided to create a “virtual birthday party” for Baker Pilgrim on Facebook as an event, to try to raise money for the elder for her birthday.
“So many people love her and appreciate the work she does, but a lot of people don’t realize she doesn’t have a way to pay her bills and rent,” said DiMicele.
The birthday party fund raised money to help cover Pilgrim’s needs and supporters hope the donations will keep coming in. Many in the community saw the donations as a small way to thank Pilgrim for all her contributions to the area.
In her earlier years she worked as a bouncer at a nightclub, a barber in a jail, a scrub nurse at a hospital, raced stock cars and managed a restaurant, all of which no doubt prepared her for her role as mother of three sons and three daughters, having married three times in her life.
She is now the real-life grandmother of 18, great-grandmother of 27 and great-great-grandmother of one.
Baker Pilgrim was not available for comment as she was traveling to Pendleton to give offerings of berries and buffalo meat to prisoners in the state correctional facility there.
“If we can pay her rent for a while, then we can do fundraising to support her projects she wants to do, like the Salmon Ceremony,” said DiMicele.
“The money that goes into the fund only goes to support her needs like rent and bills, or if she has a health emergency.”
After Baker Pilgrim decided to shift her life in the early 1970s, she took on the medicine name of her Takelma great-grandmother, “Taowhyee,” or Morningstar.
From 1974 to 1989 she worked as a manager and counselor at the United Indian Lodge in Crescent City, Calif.
There she focused on alcohol-related problems, prevention, intervention and rehabilitation.