June 14, 1986 - August 17, 2023
Service Date: August 25, 2023
Location Behrens-Wilson Funeral Home
There will be a visitation on Thursday, August 24, 2023, from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m., at Behrens-Wilson Funeral Home. Funeral services will be held on Friday, August 25, 2023, at 1:00 p.m., at the funeral home followed by burial at Mount Calvary Cemetery.
Vaughn Javier Vargas (Tasunke waste) “His Good Horse,” 37, peacefully embarked on his ancestral journey on August 17th, 2023, in Rapid City, SD. His sudden departure from among us has left his family and friends grappling with a profound loss.
Born on June 14th, 1986, in Chicago, IL, Vaughn graced the world with his presence, a cherished child of Maria Holy Eagle and Juan Vargas. As the youngest among their four children and the youngest of Maria’s six and middle child to Juan’s seven, he brought a unique radiance to their lives. In 1991, his mother and siblings returned to their Lakota homelands, the Black Hills. In his formative years, Vaughn’s athletic pursuits thrived in the environments of Southwest Middle and North Middle schools. Yet, his genuine passion for breakdancing truly ignited his spirit. This love grew during his time at Central High School and continued throughout his adult life.
Completing his high school education at the Job Corps of the Black Hills, Vaughn’s life journey took a poignant turn when he welcomed his first child, Jasiah, into the world at the age of 19. Tragically, Jasiah’s time with us was brief, yet Vaughn always carried his memory within. In 2009, Vaughn’s second son, Caleb, was born, and he dedicated himself to guiding Caleb toward his best self. Vaughn’s pursuit of education was fueled by his desire to secure a brighter future for his son. Enrolling at Oglala Lakota College (OLC) in 2011, Vaughn garnered a string of achievements, including being named 2013 Student of the Year, receiving the title of Mr. American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), and being recognized as an SD NASA Space Grant Consortium Scholar. His involvement extended beyond academics, working as a peer mentor and becoming the youngest member of the Board of Directors for the Substance Abuse Coalition. Vaughn’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge led him to the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SDSMT), where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management. Recognizing his commitment to advocating for stronger environmental regulations for tribal nations, Vaughn’s dedication was acknowledged with a Udall Scholarship in Tribal Public Policy.
Vaughn’s contributions reverberated across multiple spheres. His fervor for culture and community empowerment earned him the Peace and Justice Leadership Award from the Vincent Hawkinson Foundation in 2015. As Vaughn put it, he was “empowered to fearlessly address oppression and inequality in [his] very own community.” Vaughn was featured in the “40 Under 40″ list by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development and was inducted into SDSMT’s Leadership Hall of Fame in 2016. Vaughn further distinguished himself as a Truman Foundation Scholar, an honor reserved for the top 54 college students in the country. His commitment to community was further exemplified through his role as the Cultural Advisory Coordinator at the Rapid City Police Department, where he initiated the first cultural advisory committee in South Dakota for a law enforcement agency. Vaughn’s ambition extended to achieving a Bush Fellowship in 2017, focusing on recruiting and retaining Native American police officers and deepening his understanding of historical Lakota leadership and diplomacy. He pursued these passions while advancing his academic pursuits, culminating in a Master of Liberal Arts in Management from Harvard University and ongoing studies for a Master of Science in Civil Engineering (Construction Engineering and Management) at SDSMT at the time of his passing.
Vaughn continued his commitment to serving his community through various roles. He contributed significantly by advising engineering students in the SDSMT Engineering Projects in Community Service Program, guiding them in collaborating within tribal communities. Additionally, he played an instrumental role in the Department of Interior, Division of Energy and Mineral Development – Branch of Renewable and Distributed Energy. His dedication directly enriched Tribes, fostering economic, energy, and enterprise development through his involvement in a Tribal Energy Innovators Fellowship. Vaughn consistently channeled his knowledge and commitment into all his professional endeavors.
Throughout his journey, Vaughn held positions at esteemed organizations such as Banner Associates, where he contributed his expertise as an Industrial Engineer. He also lent his talents to the Great Plains Tribal Leader’s Health Board, serving as a Case Manager from 2013 to 2014 and later as a Budget Analyst from 2019 to 2021.
Amid his continuous growth in his academic and professional life, Vaughn found immense joy in growing his family as well. In 2021, he welcomed his third son, Kingston, into the world, further enriching his life and the lives of those around him.”
Beyond his achievements, Vaughn was a cherished father, beloved brother, devoted son, and steadfast friend. His relationship with God provided him solace through prayer. Vaughn cherished stimulating conversations, particularly outdoors, a love he had nurtured since childhood. The beauty of the Black Hills captivated him, and he reveled in the magic in fireworks and thunderstorms, which he affectionately christened “the Universe’s fireworks.” Vaughn’s affinity for music, movies, and humor was reflected in his infectious laughter and skill for sharing the perfect meme. His legacy of leadership, resilience, and warmth will forever live on.
Vaughn leaves behind a legacy to be celebrated. He is survived by his parents, Maria Holy Eagle and Juan Vargas, and his two children, Caleb Fischer and Kingston LaRoche-Vargas (and Kainin LaRoche). He is also survived by his three elder siblings, Joel Hart, Tada Vargas, and Justin Vargas, along with his three younger siblings, Abraham Vargas, Eliseo Vargas, and Julian Vargas. His niece Leticia Black Bear, nephews Chaske White Feather and Eliseo Black Bear, grandchild Izaiah Black Bear and special friend, Theresa LaRoche will hold him dear. He is preceded in death by his elder sister Ann Hart, firstborn son Jasiah Vargas, and older sister Leticia Vargas.
Family and friends are invited to commemorate Vaughn’s life on August 24, 2023, at Behrens Wilson Funeral Home, from 5pm to 7pm. Funeral services will be at 1pm on August 25, 2023, followed by a reception at Common Grounds. Vaughn’s eternal resting place will be alongside his beloved sisters, Ann and Leticia, at Mount Calvary Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made through GoFundMe at https://gofund.me/084cfb9e or directly to his sister, Tada Vargas.
Vaughn, may you find eternal peace among our ancestors; your memory will forever echo in the hearts of those privileged to know you.