Archive for Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ella Mae Mitchell - our Mrs. Indispensable

January 16, 2008

There's one in every organization-a person who doesn't want a position of power or name recognition, but who is necessary to the smooth functioning of the entire machinery.

Often, it's a woman, self-effacing and of mild language, doing whatever tedious mundane and necessary tasks nobody else wants to do. She's the one who quietly organizes the funeral dinners, chili feeds, potlucks, and other communal dinners which feed those gathered for worthy causes. She's the one who sets out the plates, counts the silverware, and washes dusty glassware in preparation for the hungry crowds. She's the one who looks up all the names and addresses and prepares the invitations for mailing.

She never has a bad word to say about anyone else, no matter how they've treated her. She finds something pleasant to say to everybody without overwhelming them with unrelenting pride in her own worthiness. Best of all, she never makes you feel guilty about all of the work she does. She seems perfectly happy in her role as mender of fences and master of all jobs. It's as if she was born to do them and do them well.

I became acquainted with a person who fits the above description in the early 1980s when I first became a member of First Christian Church in Bonner Springs. Ella Mae and her late husband Wilfrid Mitchell were long-time members of the church and welcomed my family with graciousness and kindness. Ella Mae is, in my mind, the epitome of a good Christian woman. She didn't stand about spouting biblical references or pieties. Her actions are proof of what she is. She is unfailingly kind and accepting of others regardless of who they are or aren't.

If there was food to be made and served, Ella Mae was there. If there was any work to be done, one could count on Ella Mae to volunteer and do it. She steadfastly turned down what she considered high profile jobs.

The closest position to an influential job she held was as church historian. She is well suited to be a historian of Bonner Springs and First Christian Church. One could even say she was born to it as a child of people born in this area that stayed here and brought up Ella Mae in this community. Her father was Urbin Rudell, a photographer, mail deliverer and man of many skills. He taught Ella Mae and her sister how to develop the glass negatives of the many area photographs he took. She not only learned how to develop the negatives, but realized the historical importance of her father's record of small town life.

Ella Mae and her sister, Mildred Bundy, have always been generous with their treasure trove of historical photographs. They have loaned them to many projects in Bonner Springs. One of my first encounters with the historical collection was with a church cookbook illustrated with drawing from their photographs. Then, later came a cookbook illustrated with the photographs themselves. I've seen large prints of the negatives hung in a restaurant in town, and a calendar published in honor and recognition of the Centennial Celebration.

My husband and I drew heavily upon the collection and the memories of Ella Mae and Mildred for a slide presentation about the history of Bonner Springs during the Centennial Celebration. Mildred shared a huge slide collection she and her late husband had assembled which included the Urbin Rudell photographs taken during the turn of the century, and the first half of the 20th century and more taken later of the city by other photographers. Not only were the photographs invaluable, but their commentary and knowledge of what was happening in them made the graphic record come alive.

Now, Ella Mae, with the help of her friend and fellow historian Beth Enloe, has donated the glass negatives to the Kansas State Museum of History which will eventually make them available in digital form on the Internet and has already made prints available for the public to view at the Bonner Springs City Library. This community owes a big debt of gratitude to this quiet civic leader for all the good she has brought about in uniting and making this city a great place to live. She has done it without regard to personal monetary gain and fame.


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