Ray Elm (1903 – 1997)
Although Ray Elm (Turtle Clan) passed away in 1997, he will forever live within the Oneidas’ hearts and in the hearts of many more as the name behind the Ray Elm Children and Elders Center. To understand why the building was named after Ray, we must look back at the man that was.
Halfway down the first hill on the left of Marble Hill Road in Oneida stood a house in which Ray was born. The area, called “Kana:tahkwa” (Gona’duck[wah]), meaning “The Village, ” is vastly different now. One of six children of Sylvia George and Simeon Elm, both Oneidas, Ray spoke Oneida until he began attending Kenwood School, where he learned English.
After his father passed away in 1912, his mother decided to move in with relatives in Onondaga, and soon thereafter she married Samuel George.
Ray attended Carlisle residential school and Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, and then satisfied his adventurous spirit by joining the Navy in 1921. He spent two years at a submarine school in New London, Conn., and later served aboard the Camden, a captured Sea Raider from World War I. He traveled to distant locations such as St. Thomas, Hawaii, and the Panama Canal.
When he returned home for good, he and his wife, Corabelle Martin, settled in a family home on the Onondaga Reservation.
Ray worked a variety of jobs and retired after 50 years of service with General Motors. He is also remembered for his silverwork and bead work, which he continued well into his later years. He and Cora raised four children — Verna, Raymond, Leona and Lloyd.
Ray spent a great deal of time instilling in his children the importance of good moral conduct and teaching them to treasure their Oneida roots. He had a vast knowledge of the history and traditions of the Oneidas.
“I think our people need to learn to talk our language,” Ray said during a 1991 interview. “You’ve got to understand your language to be traditional. It’s a big part of it. It’s good that we have Oneida Indian language classes. Now I want to hear people talking to me in Oneida, even if it’s just simple phrases.”
Ray served as an Oneida Indian spokesman and lecturer for years, and was respected by many in the community who were touched by his life. After Chief William Rockwell passed away in 1960, Ray was chosen to represent the Oneidas on the Grand Council of Chiefs. He was also an active participant in the Oneida land claim negotiations in the early 1960s.
He was a very active member of the Six Nations Temperance Society, eventually serving as president. He also participated in the Six Nations Agricultural Society, the Onondaga Volunteer Fire Department, and the Onondaga Nation baseball league. Ray was of the Methodist faith.
Most of all, everyone thought of Ray as a teacher, as confirmed by his youngest son. When news broke of Ray’s death, Lloyd remarked, “Everyone who knew him knew he was truly a teacher in the way he lived. It’s rare we find leaders that walk the way they talk.”
With that quality in mind, Nation leaders decided it was fitting to unite Elders and Children under Ray’s name. The announcement was made in 1995 during the annual Elders Recognition Dinner. The center opened in 1999, 14 months after Ray’s passing.
The Ray Elm Children and Elders Center is curved to resemble the outstretched arms of the Creator embracing two of the Nation’s most precious populations — Elders and children.