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July 31, 2000

Lifestyle: Touched by an Angel - Life's most persistent and urgentquestion is: what are you doing

By Sanford Wexler

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  • Lifestyle: Touched by an Angel - Life's most persistent and urgentquestion is: what are you doing

The generosity of Marshall Acee, 56, his wife, DeeDee, and a group of teenagers goes a very long way - about 2,000 miles from their Charlotte, N.C. home to the Native American Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.

Each summer, the team hits the road for the three-and-a-half day journey to the community, hoping to improve the material and spiritual lives of the native Lakota Sioux Indian children.

But Marshall Acee, a modest man who heads the agency equity trading desk at Wachovia Securities in Charlotte, does not seek much credit for the unusual mission.

"It's an experience," he said, "that our youngsters will remember for the rest of their lives."

Harsh World

The reservation, covering 1,400,000 inspiring acres, is situated in north-central South Dakota far from a major concrete jungle. The winters are harsh, with temperatures dipping to 40 below zero and snow drifts that top ten feet high. A majority of the roughly 5,000 Lakota Sioux Indians on the reservation live below the official poverty line and have an average per capita income of $4,077 (less than a third of the U.S. average).

The goodwill mission is sponsored by Acee's parish, St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Charlotte. But the inspiration came in 1986 from a young attorney, Jay Silver, and his wife, who were advisors to the church's youth group.

The Silvers felt it was important that the young people discover other cultures and find out that not everyone is as fortunate as they are.

The couple was affiliated with a nationwide Episcopalian church organization called "Paths Crossing." The church group was interested in a meaningful relationship with Native Americans. It helped that the organization included a group of Native Americans who wanted closer links with the Episcopalian churches. Those links were forged earlier with forebears of the Native Americans.

Through "Paths Crossing," Silver established a relationship between St. Martin's and a little church at Red Shirt Table, on another reservation, Pine Ridge in South Dakota.

In 1990, Acee's daughter, Dorothy, then 16-years-old, spent several weeks working with Sioux Indian children on Pine Ridge. "She came back a changed person," Acee recalled. "It moved her so much she decided that she wanted to become an attorney and help underprivileged people, particularly children."

Inspiring Experience

Today, Dorothy, 26, is in her third year of law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Acee was so touched by his daughter's experience that he resolved to visit Pine Ridge. He wanted to know what he and his church could do for the Sioux Indian community there.

It turned out that Craig Anderson, then Episcopalian Bishop of South Dakota, asked Acee and his parish if they would establish ties with White Horse, a town on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Acee jumped at the opportunity to improve the lives of the Sioux Indians.