Her siblings called her Babe, as they romped, rode horses and became fast friends growing up on farms and reservations in North Dakota and Wisconsin during the Great Depression. A natural storyteller, she saved memories on scraps of paper to share with her children. Later, she picked up pen and paintbrush to capture the beauty of life around her.
So it makes perfect sense, in the last years of her life, that Lucille Bridgeford would pull her life’s stories and images together into a memoir to share, not just with her family, but with the public, too.
Bridgeford, 85, died Oct. 10 at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale of complications related to leukemia.
Her loved ones hope her stories will live on. They plan to publish “Snapshots in Time” soon.
“She was a storyteller all her life, from the time when we were small,” said her daughter, Sandra Wolf. “In her 40s or 50s or so, she began to feel a need to write those stories down — some of the events from her childhood and as a teenager.”
“Lucy” was born May 2, 1928, to Frank and Matilda Johnson in Devils Lake, N.D. Her father farmed and worked as an engineer for the Great Northern Railroad. The family bounced between life on the farm and the reservation until railroad work became steady enough to allow them to settle down in Breckenridge, Minn.
Bridgeford graduated from high school in Breckenridge and earned a secretarial diploma from North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton. She married young, said her son, Ronald Wolfgram, and raised a family. But her story was just beginning.
When Ronald graduated from high school and enrolled at Moorhead Technical Institute in 1970 to study electronics, his mom had news. “I just signed up to go to school there, too,” she said.
She earned an associate degree in graphic arts, beginning a long career as a commercial artist in the Fargo-Moorhead area. She had a keen eye for detail, Wolfgram said; some of her illustrations “looked just like photographs.”
After retiring to the Twin Cities, Bridgeford began using watercolors. Some of her watercolor floral and landscape paintings have been displayed throughout North Dakota and Minnesota.
Over the years, Sandra Wolf said, her mother collected the stories of her life. “She had little bits and scraps of stories, some of them typed, some of them handwritten,” her daughter said.
There were stories about abject poverty, and tales of friendship and family. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, Bridgeford is descended from chiefs and fur trappers. Her heritage infused her life, Wolf said. Her spirit name — Waabiikookwe — means “dreamer woman.” It was common for her to quiz her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren each morning about what they had dreamed.
About three years ago, Bridgeford started developing a friendship with an editor friend of Wolf’s from Turtle Mountain Community College in North Dakota, Mary Kupferschmit. With Kupferschmit acting as mentor, Bridgeford started writing down her stories. Later, she began illustrating them. Even after she became ill, Wolf said, Bridgeford was determined to finish the work — called “Snapshots in Time.”