Sitting on a bench in Hayes Park, having a chat with Betsy Hall, one is struck by her intense gaze yet mild, soft demeanor. It is easy to understand why more than one Ellis Association member has referred to her as "the soul of Ellis". Betsy scoffs at such sweeping accolades, but does not deny being among the organization's most senior members. Having served as both Chair and President, Betsy ushered Ellis through some of its critical formative years when it was a rather informal group of neighborhood residents who came together to host neighborhood mixers and social events. Betsy reminisces, "I was first transfixed by the South End in 1962, but my husband said that $9000 was too expensive for a house on Montgomery Street."
Betsy seized on her next chance to make Ellis her home when she returned to Boston from living in Italy in 1995. She lived briefly in Beacon Hill before moving to the South End. "I got word of an Ellis board meeting taking place. I went there and everyone was so warm and welcoming that I just instantly decided this is where I want to be." Betsy, an outgoing board member, is among those people, the mention of whose name elicits a nod of respect for her lengthy tenure and commitment to Ellis. The late Arthur Howe, a founding member and past Ellis president who is credited for being instrumental in saving the South End from the wrecking ball of urban renewal, is another such venerable individual. Ellis actually created an award in Howe's name to be bestowed annually upon outstanding individuals. Betsy Hall is a past recipient of the award as is Paul Duffy, who is the only remaining original founding member.
John Alekna, who has been involved with Ellis since 2013 and who is its current president, recounts Ellis' history and founding, noting as Betsy did, that the organization was originally formed by residents in 1963 in order to socialize and consider topics that impacted the greater good. Though not incorporated until 1972, members from early on demonstrated a commitment to beautifying their corner of the neighborhood along with a true caring for its most vulnerable constituents. And of course, everyone wanted to have fun together as well.
John explains Ellis' structure as consisting of a 7 person executive committee, a 28 member board and a broader membership of some 280 people. And then are the committees that focus and specialize in executing on the various goal categories that Ellis regularly establishes, a few examples of which are the Neighborhood Services Committee, the Scholarship Committee, and (for the fun part) the Wine Committee. Now who could have any objection to joining a wine committee? The spirit, according to John, has always been inclusive and the contributions that Ellis makes to the neighborhood are tangible. "Just as one small example of the work we do, we were able to provide knapsacks, banners and graduation materials to the students of McKinley Elementary School this year, and we believe it made a real difference in the quality of their graduation experience. Being part of Ellis has been very rewarding for my wife Norma and for me,” Alekna conveys in a grateful tone.
Just as Ellis' long standing and stable membership roster anchors it to the South End landscape, so it is also true that it has always thrived on the contributions of new members with fresh ideas. Enter Julie Arnheitier. Julie and her husband Mike moved to the Ellis neighborhood 5 years ago and Juliie quickly understood the important role Ellis plays in enhancing quality of life in the neighborhood. Julie's involvement with Ellis has now culminated with her election as incoming Chair of the organization as well as Chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Julie is off to a purposeful start, recently hosting a breakfast attended by leaders of many of the non-profits which have a physical presence within Ellis. Julie explained the purpose behind the event: " The non-profits don’t communicate with one another often enough. At our breakfast, everyone met each other and we went around the room and each organization detailed what they are working on and how they can help one another. Julie is replacing outgoing Chair Bob Berstein whom she credits with having done a great job during his own term as Chair. She also expressed excitement at the prospect of working with John Alekna. "We are going to make a great team.", she said.
Stacey Koeppel, who has served as Ellis’ Executive Director for the past 12 years, echoes Julie’s sentiments and looks forward to building a more inclusive Ellis. “We intend to bring the community together post covid to and reach out to community organizations that do important work in our city.”, says Stacey. “We want Ellis to reflect the diversity of our community on the board, committee and membership levels.”
Area residents interested in joining the Ellis Neighborhood Organization should go to www.Ellisneighborhood.org. You are sure to meet nice neighbors, make new friends and find new purpose. In addition to engaging in other worthwhile pursuits, you may also have a great time as a member of the Wine Committee.