Wearing a black dress and a white rose corsage on her wrist, Marie Antone followed her prom date onto the crowded, dimly lit dance floor.
“This one is going out to Marie,” announced the DJ. As the first notes of one of her favorite songs started to play, Antone’s date gently took both of her hands. Together they swayed from side to side.
This was Antone’s first prom, something she never imagined she’d experience. She turned 74 last November, and has 20 great-grandchildren.
Her date is Chief Sealth International High School graduate Juan “Neeto” Old Chief Betancourt. The 18-year-old wanted to honor his great-grandmother by bringing her to his senior prom at the Seattle Art Museum in June.
“In our ways, like, the women are like the strong ones,” said Betancourt, who is Squamish, Yakama and Blackfeet. “They’re like the backbone pretty much.” Antone is “loving, full of knowledge, quiet and powerful,” he added.
Betancourt surprised Antone with a “promposal” at her West Seattle home in June with a sign that read, “Grandma gives the best hugs and kisses.” The poster board was decorated with her favorite candy, Hershey’s Kisses.
“It was a wonderful surprise,” said Antone.
Betancourt said his great-grandmother, who helped raise him, puts people ahead of herself. He wanted the evening to celebrate her contributions to their family. She taught him to forgive, be humble and to have a positive impact in the world, he said.
Antone wasn’t able to attend prom in her youth. She lived in dozens of foster homes while growing up in Washington and Montana, after being abandoned by her mother. The Zack family on the Yakama Nation adopted her in her teenage years, and that’s where she would later meet her husband. Together they had four children.
The hardships that Antone endured have made Betancourt recognize “there’s always someone out there that can have it way worse than you,” he said. “Family always comes first.”
Uncle Bert Nolan drove Antone, Betancourt and his girlfriend, Kalei Bressler, from Salty’s restaurant in West Seattle to the dance in his 1964 Impala.
The night culminated with Betancourt’s requesting the DJ to play Shania Twain’s “Man! Feel Like a Woman!” Antone, who loves country music, danced with her great-grandson underneath a sculpture of a 140-year-old western hemlock tree.
This summer, Betancourt will participate in the Power Paddle to Puyallup 2018 Tribal Canoe Journey, and will also attend powwows across the country where he will chicken dance.
He wants to finish college, “start working and help my family,” Betancourt said. Like his great-grandmother, he wants to “be an inspiration.”
“It’s a historical moment for our family, for so many of our kids graduating at one time this year,” said Antone, about her three great-grandchildren and one grandson who graduated from high school this year. “It’s wonderful to know that they’re out there serving the community and uplifting our name.”