Marjorie Joyce Ellis entered the world on November 24, 1917. On April 9, 2018, at her home in Eagle, Idaho, having spent her life bringing light and joy to the people she loved, she passed, peacefully and naturally, into the embrace of her Heavenly Father. She was of course surrounded with love: She had recently celebrated her 100th birthday with friends and family, and, when she departed, she was in the warm company of her three surviving children.
Marjorie was born to Dallas and Elizabeth Draper in Jamestown, North Dakota, the seventh of nine children, including three boys and six girls in all. Because the older siblings soon left, seeking jobs out of state, she grew up quite close to her four sisters who remained at home.
Theirs was a different world: The family relied on a wood-burning cooking stove. They pumped their water from the well by hand. And they had a traditional outhouse. Marjorie was just 12 when the Great Depression began. Thanks to God, her father had a job at a neighborhood grocery store. Her mother sewed most of the girls' clothes which were handed down from sister to sister. When they were eventually too threadbare to wear in public, she braided rugs out of them.
In this way and in dozens of others, the Draper girls learned to be resourceful and thrifty, and to always “get the good of” each item that God provided.
The family was active in the Church of the Nazarene and the girls’ parents modeled values of faithful attendance, righteous behavior, and service to the Lord. Community life revolved around church activities where Marjorie, who eventually became known as Marj, learned to trust Jesus for her salvation and to live a faith-centered life of peace.
Growing up in North Dakota, Marj loved cold, snowy winters. She enjoyed ice skating. Her favorite subject in high school was Shorthand. During these years, traveling vocal groups from Northwest Nazarene College (now Northwest Nazarene University) would visit their church, extolling the virtues of what was then a young junior college in Nampa, Idaho. She graduated from high school at age 17 and, heeding their advice, enrolled at NNC that fall.
After a year at NNC she took a break to work for a year or two, saving for the remainder of her college education. She found work as a maid at a lakeside estate in Winnetka, Illinois, a wealthy suburb of Chicago. Thursdays were maids’ days off, so that’s when Marj enjoyed getting acquainted with the other domestic workers in the neighborhood. They would dress up and take the short train ride to downtown Chicago. With little to spend, they would usually do some window shopping and then get a treat at one of the neighborhood soda fountains.
Returning to NNC, Marj met A. B. Ellis, then known as Burrell, a young man from Seattle. Later he would say that he fell in love immediately, that she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She followed suit, falling for the tall, ambitious fellow with dark, wavy hair.
The two were married on Aug. 8, 1940, in Jamestown and moved to Emmett, Idaho, taking a room in a widower’s home. Marj cooked and cleaned to pay the rent while A.B. went to work as a grade school teacher earning just $90 a month.
A year later the couple moved to Seattle. There, A.B. earned his Washington teaching certificate at Seattle Pacific University. To cover the bills, both worked for a wealthy widow – Marj as a maid and her husband as chauffeur and groundskeeper.
Eventually they were able to buy an old house to refurbish. She did secretarial work for 25 cents per hour. Her husband, finding he could earn more money by painting houses than teaching, quickly became Seattle's youngest painting contractor. During this time, they were blessed with two children; a son, Dennis, and a daughter, Kathy.
In 1946, their aspirations brought them back to Idaho. They moved to Nampa where A.B. founded a new paint store dubbed Nampa Paint and Glass. This humble venture would eventually grow to become Ponderosa Paint Manufacturing, including a factory in Boise and multiple paint & glass stores in Idaho, Oregon and Utah.
God soon blessed them with two more children: a girl, Marquita, and a boy, Loren. As A.B. grew the company, his wife assumed a new role, ordained from on high: she became a full-time mother and the manager of the Ellis household. As Marquita later wrote to her mom, “God gave you the gift and ministry of motherhood, and you have always fulfilled and accomplished your calling with joy, love and skill – and without wavering!”
In spite of her rustic childhood, later experiences engendered in her a taste for quality and an eye for style. She attacked homemaking with the same work ethic she had brought to her past jobs. Among her chief duties was the task creating a beautiful and welcoming environment for the family. She performed the job joyously; it was a labor of love and an act of service for those she cared about most.
In 1955 construction began on a new home across from Lions Park giving their “free range” kids wide open spaces for outdoor play. This remained A.B. and Marjorie’s home for almost half a century.
Her children remember how she filled the house with song; their living-room hi-fi was ever alive with classical music, inspirational hymns, easy-listening tunes or gospel quartet harmonies. She decorated lovely rooms with a pleasing, artful mix of colors and patterns. Her style felt classic yet current. She curated unique décor pieces that evoked the charm and personality of her creative, quirky brood.
Each season of the year found her welcoming the outdoors into their home. Most mornings in spring, summer and autumn, the windows would be thrown open to let breezes flow through the house. She created seasonal bouquets using flowers and other items from the yard. In the coldest months, naked branches would evoke the stark, raw beauty of winter – her favorite time of all.
She reveled in making memories with Denny, Kathy, Marquita and Loren. When it was warm out, there were camping trips and impromptu picnics in the back yard. In the snow, there were sledding trips and tubing. She took all four of them on the train to visit family back in North Dakota. Later, she would pile them in the car and drive there, a 1,143-mile-trip. She strove to put magic and joy into every holiday, making each feel special.
Despite their success and improved quality of life, she and A.B. would never forget their frugal ways. Like many of their generation, they had known a time of great scarcity and would forever be prepared for another. She would admonish the children to “get the good of” everything. Marquita recalls her “reusing the cereal box liner-bag, for instance, or scraping the last little drop of egg white out of the shell.” Marj was a careful shopper, never spending more than she had to, always on the hunt for a good sale.
However, their frugality had nothing to do with being stingy. Theirs was an open, welcoming home. Guests were frequent, and Marj was at her peak when serving Sunday dinner to a table full of family, friends and often, one or two college kids from out of town who she knew could use a home-cooked meal. She was a great cook; it’s unlikely that anyone ever left the table hungry.
For all the hard work, love, and care, her family adored her. Kathy summed it up in one of many Mother’s Day cards when she wrote “To our dearest Mom, who makes life worth living, home worth returning to and memories worth recalling.” In another she remarked that “All of us four kids – and dad too – cherish the very thought of you.”
Of course, her four kids grew up eventually. They moved out, got jobs, got married, had kids of their own. Marj shifted effortlessly from loving, supportive mother to sweet and generous grandma, one who always had snacks, whose house was always fresh and clean, and who had a swimming pool in the backyard.
During the years when A.B. served on the board of the National Decorating Products Association, Marj was free to travel with him as he visited other business owners and entrepreneurs across the country. The couple made new friends wherever they went.
They maintained a home in Palm Desert, California where they would winter, always inviting their adult children, now with spouses and kids in tow, to join. There, and at the cabin they kept in Idaho’s Round Valley, was where the extended family would gather to spend lazy days reading, playing Scrabble, going for walks and picking fruit (grapefruit or huckleberries, depending on the location).
They also enjoyed their travels, visiting some of the global destinations they had dreamed of. The two created treasured memories as they journeyed to Germany, Israel, Columbia, and Brazil. As much as Marj loved their travel adventures, experiencing the new and learning about other cultures, she also loved coming back to Nampa and the Ellis family home.
When Loren was killed by leukemia in 1999, it was a devastating loss. A.B. would pass seven years later, having been her partner in life for 66 incredible years. But she carried on. She still loved visiting with her kids, her grandkids, and her great grandkids. Still loved listening to music, watching and listening to wild birds, seeing and smelling lovely flowers. She still loved chatting with neighbors and meeting new people.
In 2012, Marj moved to Edgewood Spring Creek Assisted Living in Eagle, Idaho where she was given care above beyond the call of duty until she finally departed. The Ellis family offers profound thanks to Randi, Besima and the whole team for the care and love of our dear, sweet matriarch.
She remained a devout member of the Nazarene Church and a follower of Jesus all her life. She owned a few bibles over the years, but one she especially enjoyed was her copy of The Living Bible. In it, she highlighted a particular passage that seems to stand out: “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.” Psalm 90:12
It seems that she spent her days just as she spent her money, just as she spent all of the items and goods that God provided her: consciously, carefully, and completely. Marquita, in a message to her siblings last week, referenced their mother’s habit of always “getting the good of.”
“She has gotten the last little bit of good out of her poor little body! I am so proud of her and all that she’s accomplished...”
In 100 years and five months, it seems that Marj was able to squeeze out every last drop of good. She gave it all away – to her husband and family, to her friends, to everyone who was fortunate to know her. For that, and for the fine role model she presented us, we are all deeply and truly blessed.
She is survived by son Denny (Cammi) Ellis, their three sons, a daughter and grandchildren; daughter Kathy (Larry) Bottemiller and their two sons; daughter Marquita (Clair) Eberhardt, their three sons, a daughter and grandchildren, and Loren's widow Carmen and two daughters. In Heaven, she reunites with her parents, eight siblings, son Loren and husband A.B.