Sturges, Ralph: Mohegan mourn passing of longtime chief

New London, Connecticut (AP) 10-07

Mohegan Chief Ralph Sturges, left, walks back to his seat after accepting an honorary degree from Dr. David Carter Sr., chancellor of the Connecticut State University System, during commencement exercise at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Conn., in this May 21, 2006 file photo.

AP Photo/The Norwich Bulletin, Khoi Ton

Mohegan Chief Ralph Sturges, who helped shepherd his eastern Connecticut tribe through federal recognition and the development of its highly successful casino, has passed away. He was 88.

Sturges passed away Sept. 30 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in New London from lung cancer, tribal officials said.

The Mohegans earned federal recognition in 1994, two years after Sturges was elected chief for life. Their Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, one of the largest in the world, opened in 1996.

“We will miss his leadership, and his passing leaves a void not easily filled in our tribal government,” said Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe. “I know that many of us considered him a friend and person we could approach for advice on any issue. At this time our thoughts and prayers are with him and the entire Sturges family.”

Sturges, who was born on Christmas Day 1918, traced his Mohegan ancestry to his mother’s family. Before becoming chief, he was a payroll deliveryman for an armored car company and a disaster relief coordinator and public relations director for the Salvation Army.

Sturges was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps and was involved in projects such as cleanup efforts after the Northeast hurricane of 1938

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army’s intelligence division in New Guinea and the Philippines, earning a bronze star, the tribe said.

In 2005, Sturges was named man of the year by Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Southeastern Connecticut and citizen of the year by the Chamber of Commerce for Eastern Connecticut.

Sturges also was a sculptor. His works can be found at the state capitol, New London City Hall, Montville High School and the cornerstone of Mohegan Sun, the tribe said.

The tribal flags at Mashantucket, home to nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino, the state’s other Indian casino, were lowered to half-staff Monday as a sign of respect.

“It was the Mashantucket Pequots’ honor and privilege to have assisted Chief Sturges and the Mohegan Tribe in seeking their federal recognition,” said Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Michael Thomas. “Chief Sturges was a valued leader of his people and an inspiration to native peoples everywhere. He led the Mohegan people through the difficult process of federal recognition. It was a success, in no small measure, because of his untiring efforts.”

Gov. M. Jodi Rell also lauded the Mohegan chief.

“He will be forever remembered for his contributions not only as a wise leader – having most notably served his people during their successful campaign for federal tribal recognition – but as a skilled sculptor,” she said in a statement. “The state of Connecticut and the Mohegan Tribe have lost a great friend and treasured talent, but in cherishing him we will maintain his spirit always.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Sturges touched countless lives.

“Ralph Sturges was truly a man for all seasons – a uniquely wonderful human being, a leader of courage and vision, a champion for Native Americans and a model of public service for all of us,” Blumenthal said.

Sturges was predeceased by his wife, Ida, in May. He is survived by a son, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.