WENATCHEE — When the newest building at Wenatchee Valley College was officially dedicated Tuesday to Gloria Atkins, also known as Mish ee twie, her family was there, so proud and honored.
The new building is named Mish ee twie in honor of Atkins, a higher education advocate, tribal elder and proponent of tribal fishing rights at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Icicle rivers.
She served as the Colville Tribes’ higher education director for more than 45 years, affecting student lives throughout the region. When WVC was looking to develop a learning center in Nespelem 20 years ago, Atkins was instrumental in getting that started and she was a big supporter of it. Atkins died in 2019.
The Mish ee twie building on the main WVC campus in Wenatchee cost $37 million. It is three stories and 73,935 square feet, with 25 classrooms and multiple program and instructor offices. The building also houses the Jack & Edna Maguire conference center and the Chelan County Emergency Operations Center.
Colville Tribal Chairman Andrew Joseph, who spoke at the dedication ceremony, said he got to know Gloria Atkins when he was in high school. Joseph said it made his heart happy the building was being named for a tribal elder who worked a lot of hours helping people.
“I know she helped my oldest sister when she signed up for college and started going to school. I know there were times when she worked after hours. It’s a lot of paperwork to get all of the students we have in our tribe into college and stay up with them,” Joseph said. “She had to become like a counselor to many of our people.”
Joseph said the tribes have started a college endowment fund, with hopes of adding $1 million, in the name of Atkins. The endowment fund is for student scholarships.
Karen Condon, the chair of the tribe’s education and culture committee, said Atkins was a big support for her and her daughter when they went to college.
“Gloria spent so many years working on behalf of the students and the tribe in general,” Condon said. “It’s such an honor to have the college honor all the work that Gloria has done, not only for the tribe but for all students.”
Gloria Atkins’ son, Jim Andrews, said he can’t describe how happy is for her, saying all of her work is being recognized because there were countless hours she stayed in her office, just to make sure students were ready to go back to the school on time.
Her son, William Andrews, said he was still in shock over the building dedication, saying it was good all her hard work was recognized. He said she was really dedicated to education, pushing him and others to college.
Plus she stayed active in tribal activities.
“She was really active in a lot of things. She not only worked but did the funding for the Nez Perce Longhouse. With all her culture, she would be out gathering foods for the longhouse and family. She was a really hard worker,” William Andrews said.
Atkins’ daughter, Audrey Webb, said the building dedication was such an honor, seeing how much people appreciated what she did. Webb said she inspired her to do everything she can and be what she can.
She passed that to students, too.
“One of her main things was education and making sure the students had everything they needed and being there for them as far as funding and if they needed help, she was there,” Webb said. “She put a lot of time and effort into everything she did.”
Sister Patricia Atkins said this is all pretty overwhelming because Gloria was such a humble person — genuine, caring and kind. She did things from her heart. Until now, Atkins said she didn’t realize how many lives she touched.
“We grew up together and I have a lot of experiences from childhood memories. We were all raised together. My father was born in 1900 so we really had some old-school teachings and discipline and she carried that throughout her life,” Atkins said.
The name, Mish ee twie, was a name passed through the tribal tradition. Atkins said her dad named them after one of his elders. In Gloria’s case, this was her father’s great aunt, who was born in the early-to-mid 1800s.
Growing up, Atkins said Gloria was very stubborn.
“She had a mind of her own. She was very determined. We had a strict upbringing. She would defy my dad and he would yield to her. She carried that throughout her life and this is proof of her character,” Atkins said. “It’s just overwhelming to have such an honor for family and our sister.”