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In a season of change, sixteen years ago, two Oneida women took a chance, and anxiously awaited their first guests.
Scarred, wooden tables, flanked by metal folding chairs were set up in the Community Center, downtown Oneida. The big event had been advertised by handmade flyers, delivered door-to-door and on bare windshields wherever found. No parking problems faced the eighty-five guests as they began trickling in, selected a seat and set up for an evening’s activities.
And the games began.
A profit of $85 that first night of Oneida bingo was a harbinger of bigger and better things to come that neither Sandra Ninham nor Alma Webster had dared to dream.
Their chance not only paid off but took off. It continued to pay the weekly winners, the workers and the Center’s utility bills; it paid off as word spread and bingo players came from Milwaukee, the Fox River Valley and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Among the Madison contingent came then-Governer Anthony Earl to try his luck, and of course to shake some hands. The Bingo Hall has also hosted the present Governer of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson.
With no place to go but up, Oneida Bingo did just that. As space inside and outside the original bingo hall became a problem, Sandra and Alma convinced Oneida officials that a larger building was needed. On April 3, 1983, the Irene Moore Activity Center was dedicated. Located on a site across from the Austin Straubel Airport, the 12,000 square foot building was named in honor of Irene Moore, the first woman named to the Chairship of the Oneida Nation. Within a year, the 600 seat bingo hall had to be expanded by adding 700 more seats.
Irene Moore Biography
A newspaper article once referred to Irene Moore as a “tireless volunteer”. In addition to being a volunteer, she was also an organizer in her Oneida community. Asked why she was involved in so many activities and projects, her reply was “I just did things I thought had to be done.”
Irene’s involvement and leadership in the community included participation in the following:
- Red Cross Board of Directors
- Oneida Education Committee
- Oneida Athletic Association
- Delegate – White House Conference Council on Aging in 1970
- Great Lakes Welfare Committee
- Wisconsin Organization of Tribal Women
- Officer – Women’s Society of Christian Service
- Organized Oneida 4-H Club
- Director – Community Action Program
- Treasurer – Methodist Church
- Oneida Summer School Program
- Oneida Housing Authority
- Voted Outstanding Elder of Oneida Community
- Served Tribal Council for 15 years
There are just a few activities that Irene was involved in publicly. No one knows the numerous things she did privately to help people who were in need of her assistance.
One of her most notable accomplishments was being elected Chief of the Oneida Tribe in 1963. She was the first woman to be elected to that position in all the Tribe’s history.
In 1975 Irene was asked what she thought of women’s liberation. Her response was “I don’t know anything about women’s liberation, because we in the Oneida’s have always had it”. She supported the idea of women getting involved in civic affairs and encouraged them to do so.
The beautiful Irene Moore Activity Center (IMAC) is located in a scenic woodland setting on original Tribal Lands pursuant to an 1838 Treaty, on Airport Road, County Trunk GG across from Austin Straubel Airport in Brown County. Construction on the Center began in the fall of 1982 with revenues generated by the Oneida Tribal Enterprises, primarily Oneida Bingo.
The unique facility was completed in April 1983 and at this time the building was dedicated to a distinguished Tribal Elder, Irene Moore, who was the first Oneida woman to hold the position Chairperson for the Oneida Nation.
The IMAC houses 4 operations, the Bingo Activity, a food service and gift shop operation and a tobacco outlet operated co-operatively with the Tobacco Enterprise. The IMAC is a facility open to accommodate other tribal functions in addition to those previously mentioned. The IMAC has hosted Tribal meetings, receptions, large dinner parties, and Community informational meetings.
With the revenues generated by the activities and operations of the IMAC, the Oneida Tribe is able to finance and subsidize approximately 27 Tribal programs, to name a few: Oneida Recreation, Oneida Nursing Home, Oneida Tribal School and Headstart, Plant Management, Oneida Cannery, Commission on Aging and a Tribal Public Safety Department.
The IMAC is currently open seven days a week and employs approximately 124 workers in areas of tobacco and bingo sales, maintenance, parking lot attendants, food service workers, gift shop sales persons, callers, floor workers, security, supervisors and management.