Ronald Chiago

Obituary of Ronald Paul Chiago

Ronald Paul Chiago was born to Justin Chiago and Marian Lewis Chiago on October 28, 1946, in Phoenix, AZ. Ron’s father was an enrolled member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and his mother was a member of the Gila River Indian Community. The family was in the beginning stages of growth and Ronald was the third child born to the family and the first son. Deanna and Shirley were his older sisters until he scored a little brother, Gregory, two years later. The family would expand to ten children in years to come. In 1946, the family was living in what is now known as District 6, Komatke, in the Gila River Indian Community.  

Ron’s paternal grandparents, Pablo Chiago and Anna Leonard Chiago were original allottees and enrolled members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Pablo Chiago chose to move to Gila River with his young family and spent all his years at the St. John’s Catholic Mission as a construction superintendent for the St. John’s Church and an anticipated boarding school. Pablo had two sons, his oldest son, Justin, was Ron’s father. 

Justin Chiago, Sr. enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in WWII leaving his wife and three children in Komatke. Once returning home, the family continued to grow and out of necessity the family moved to Phoenix in the early 1950’s. The military provided valuable training to Justin and being an airplane mechanic, he acquired a job at the Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, AZ. Upon settling the family in the city, he commuted from Phoenix to Glendale with a carpool of other veterans for twelve years.  

In the early years of Ron’s life in Phoenix, he attended various schools and made many friends, some would be lifelong. He was always the leader of the pack and never lacked friends to skate, play marbles, swim, build soapbox derbies, ride bikes, and play sports all over the city parks. These pastimes were the choice of that generation’s recreation and it suited Ron and his brothers well. He was an energetic boy, always busy and did well in school. His personality was set in those years and throughout Ron’s life he was always very sociable and would attend local events and participate in all that was entertaining and interesting to him.  

The AZ State Fair was his favorite as a teen, and he would love the rides, especially the midway with all the rock n’ roll radio stations broadcasting live and giving away 45’s. He and his friends would spend all their time roaming around the fairgrounds. His love for music started when he was young hearing the 50’s music his older sisters would listen to and dance around. He learned to dance and spent his youth going to the various teen dances held each weekend. He was quite the dancer.  

When Ron lost his father, he was barely 18 years old and had just started to live his adult life. He managed to put himself on the right path despite the loss. He met and married Cora Butler who would be his life partner for over thirty years. Together they had four children, Tammie, Curtis (bot), Saul and Gary. He was blessed with 15 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren. 

In the seventies Ron would leave Phoenix with his young family and move to Salt River. His first job was with Pi-Copa, Salt River’s construction company. There he became trained and worked in heavy equipment operation for four years. He decided to apply for a position with the Planning & Land Management Department where he could learn more about the land, its history, and archeological significance and value to our tribe. He met his mentors and peers who brought him into the fold to protect and manage the tribal natural resources and preserve its cultural integrity for future generations. He spoke of the invaluable roles of Johnson Enos (bot) and Terrance Leonard (bot) who knew more about the footprint of the Community from border to border than anyone else. He was honored to learn from the tribe’s best and foremost knowledgeable tribal members. The historical and cultural gatekeepers of the land were more than happy to share with those having the same interests and passion and they saw that trait in Ron. It was a real sense of homecoming to one who was raised in the city yet possessed the love of the land inherently.  

Ron would go on to be one of the first to hold a cultural specialist position and his commitment to the land and its preservation would be his legacy. He spent years documenting and working to ensure that the tribe’s land, water, and natural resources would be, as a priority, protected. Ron continued to read, learn and bring attention to what must be done as a Community to preserve all the things he learned from Mr. Johnson (bot) and Mr. Leonard (bot). 

Ron very much appreciated his relatives, the Salt River and Gila River tribes for what they offered in terms of culture, familial bonds and the sense of belonging he had to not one, but two O’Odham Communities. He said once that we should be allowed dual-enrollment because we are so blended with our sister tribe.  

Anyone can tell you that Ron was a man of opinions and strong convictions. At eighteen, he became the head of the family after his father died and left his mother and ten children, six of whom were minors. His father had been the only male of his family with four sisters. So, Ron essentially had to make his way through life without the guidance of a male influence. He still learned enough from his father from whom he inherited many traits which helped him through life. One strong characteristic he adopted from his father was his firm belief in family, being responsible for their lives and protecting them at all costs. He would never back down if there were unethical, dishonest or questionable practices he did not approve of and he made his position known.  

Ron was devoted to his children and they were the most important people in his life. While he, at times, tended to assert his displeasure at any of their actions, he by all means forgave and accepted their situation and consequences every time. In his own experience, he knew the father-child bond was solid and without saying so, he wanted the best for his children, but he knew it was his children who would decide their own direction in life and he was there to support them however he could. He never said “no” to his children, grandchildren and now, great-grandchildren.  

He was the fun, favorite uncle and he enjoyed all of his sibling’s children. His house was always open to the many nieces and nephews coming to see their cousins and at times some stayed with him. He was always generous and at times would take in family members  or friends in need. His house was always full of people coming and going with music blaring and lots of laughing and chatter. Today his family will show up in droves to say goodbye to their loving, funny and caring uncle.  

Ron braved serious health issues before he lost his battle. He never complained when he lost a kidney to cancer several years ago, he vowed to protect his remaining kidney and lead a normal healthy life. His favorite pastime was to walk several miles a day religiously. One could run into him walking at the Indian Bend Wash anytime. He was living his best life and in keeping with traditions from his youth in Phoenix and Gila River, he would attend mass sometimes twice a week at either St. Mary’s Basilica or at the St. John’s Church in Komatke. His Catholic upbringing was his comfort and saving grace for many years. He also loved taking his grandkids to Park N’ Swap just to be out walking and enjoying the outdoors. The memories he leaves are very precious. 

He did not complain when he caught covid during the second round of a related variant and it destroyed his healthy, functioning kidney and he had to go on dialysis. He didn’t complain when he learned that the cancer had returned and he would need to have chemotherapy in addition to his dialysis. The debilitating treatments soon took their toll on his body. He fought and fought to regain his health and didn’t give up. He fought for the family’s sake because he never said, “no”. Our Creator is merciful and had other plans. He needed to go home, he needed to rest.  

Today we are not honoring Ron because he is gone, we are thanking him for honoring us with his life and legacy. He was a quiet, unassuming leader and as we recall conversations with him, we will learn that he said so much with such insight. We will miss you, Ronnie. 

Surviving family members include daughter Tammie (Felix), sons, Saul (Kim) and Gary (Sheresa); sisters Deanna Bejarano, Claire Miller (Alvin), Eloise Donahue and Jennifer Thomas; 15 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren and dozens of nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his parents and his sons, Curtis Wade and son Gerald.

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A Memorial Tree was planted for Ronald
We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at Meldrum Mortuary
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