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Billie Fidlin, Russ Letica, Millie Chalk

Goodbye My Friend - For Now
~ Billie K. Fidlin
President & Founder, Whisper n Thunder

Sometime ago our Board of Directors decided

we would dedicate the January issue of

Whisper n Thunder to Russ Letica, our Vice

President, who passed in September. We

decided to wait 'til the new year, to give us

time - to grieve, to mourn, to get used to

the idea that our rock has left us in the sense

of his physical presence. We thought it right

that only people who were close to Russ write articles. That included past and present Board members, and family as well as a couple of people who were very near, and dear, to Russ. Intentionally a small issue of tribute.

As I write this most of the articles have trickled in this week. I know that it hasn’t been easy for any of us to write, or for me to read. Russ is gone. 

You see - after his surgery - Russ and I had made plans. He’d come here for Christmas. Then hopefully back again to Phoenix for The Heard Museum’s Hoop Dance competition. He’s been before - loved the competition, loved being around the thousands of indigenous people who attend. Our first WINDS Scholar & subsequently Board member had hoped to attend - surprising Russ with her presence along with her family that Russ had never met. Most of our Board wanted to come - we hadn’t really gotten down to details yet. But it would be quite a reunion.

Not to be.

For me as President, Russ was my confident and mentor. But my friend and ‘brother’ first. Never one to mince words, he always told it like it was. If we had a disagreement, we’d argue like the best of them and we could do that, because the love between this brother and sister of sorts, would always carry us through. The night before his surgery we talked a long time; assured that all would turn out well and we would see each other at the holidays.

Not to be.

Whisper n Thunder has always had a good Board of Directors, a great Board of Directors. And we still do. But it is not the same without him. We are finding our way. We are looking at new ways of doing what we do. He certainly believed in innovation and being relevant. Russ believed fiercely in both EREZ and our WINDS Scholarship programs. He and I would create the appeal letters. He and I would market these aggressively to raise the necessary funds. He loved reviewing the scholarship applications - they give such hope about Indian Country and its future. He loved hearing the stories from our EREZ applicants. His goal was to continue to help as best he could to heat more and more and more homes. He couldn’t bear the thought of elders and babies living continually in the cold. He had plans for another year of fundraising.

Not to be.

Russ was a fierce advocate for his Nation. He’d just been elected to office and was excited to continue to make change for the common good. He had sent me his election materials to review and edit as needed. I smile as I type this - sometimes his spelling and organizational skills left something to be desired BECAUSE he was very much just get the job done! There are people who need help, policies that need changing, governments that need to be challenged. He was ready and up to the task.

Not to be.

Russ’s photos that appear in this issue are on my opening screen of my computer. So I see him every day. We knew each other well enough and for so many years… he’s still guiding me, and for that matter everyone else who wrote for this issue of dedication to our friend and brother have been greatly influenced by his indisputable spirit. I am deeply grateful to have grown close to his nephew Jason, who has taken Russ's place on our Board. Russ would be very proud already of Jason's contributions.

We love Russ. Not ‘loved’, but love. He is still with us, he always will be. His heart beats still within this organization. He helped begin it, and we’ll carry on.

If you’re reading this, then you have seen our appeals for EREZ every year. Always appreciated, always needed. For a long time now the tag line has been, ‘help us help them’. For now, my tag line is 'honor our friend'. 

Simply put, Russ was a really good guy. I will miss him forevermore.