Saturday Story Time: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things; A voice for the voiceless

Saturday Story Time: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things; A voice for the voiceless

Her mother died when she was just fifteen, the same age as two of my children. By the time she graduated from high school in Missoula, Montana she had lived a life very different from the average teen. Three weeks later she got married to the wonderful man she is still married to 55 years later. Two sons, a daughter and eight grandchildren later she is humble about herself, but willing to brag about her children and grandchildren with no problem.

In many ways she led a pretty typical life for growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. She held various secretarial jobs, helped her husband get through pharmacy school, and raised her children. After moving to McMinnville, Oregon in 1968, where her husband opened his own pharmacy, she started to work for the District Attorney’s office as a secretary. The shop was successful enough for her to stay at home with the kids, and she told the DA she would be back when her kids were in college.

She kept her foot in the door by covering for vacations and other emergency fill ins. When her oldest son Brad, was a freshman in college, the DA said “Isn’t time for you to come back to work?” She laughed and said, “yes, actually it is.” “Good, I have a job for you.” he stated. Now let me remind you, she has been working since she was fifteen, does not have a college education, has raised three children, and managed to be good enough for this DA to not only remember her, but want her for a new position.

The state had just been given a grant from the federal government to pioneer a program that gave fiscal and psychological help to victims and witnesses of violent crime. With the complete support and encouragement from her supervisors, she went to as many trainings as she could find, educating herself and her team while working tirelessly to implement this pilot program in practical ways. Other states were asked to create similar projects but Oregon’s became the model for the whole country.

For the first time victims of rape and other violent crimes, as well as witnesses to crimes, who had been largely ignored and treated indifferently had a voice. The time was right, the money available, and MaryEllen had found a calling. It was a time when legislation was beginning to pay attention to crime victims and now they had an organized, well thought out, compassion led program to give them the opportunity to be heard.

In 1994, after MaryEllen had been working for the Department of Justice as an Investigator for Crime Victim Assistance her boss announced her resignation. The two new candidates for the job had a very different philosophical approach to how the department would be run. MaryEllen knew she could not work for either of them, they would turn the program into a bank for victims, based on finances and not the victims themselves. It would turn what she had worked so hard to make personal and ‘user friendly’ into a red tape nightmare. She was asked to apply.

Now again I remind you of this woman’s history, she has no college degree, she has not studied to become the expert, or been given a degree that says she can handle this position. Instead, she has from the grass-roots up, built, and fought for a part of society most people ignore. She has labored by their side, heard their stories, and trained countless people all over the state and country, to assist these victims in getting the help they need to move on from their tragedy, and live productive healthy lives. Not having a degree did not intimidate her or stop her, she applied for the State Director of Crime Victim Assistance, telling them exactly what she would need to make her vision come true.

When she resigned from the director position in 2001, she had built a comprehensive victim advocacy program that cared for the whole person. She never forgot it was individuals she was fighting for and individuals she was serving. When I asked MaryEllen what she was most proud of she mentions having the opportunity to facilitate a large amount of legislation that passed for crime victims. She casually brings up the training that is now required for people wanting to work with Victim Assistance and the crisis response training implemented across the nation because of the model originating in Oregon.

MaryEllen was given a National Life Time Achievement Award for being a pioneer and selfless practitioner for Crime Victims Assistance. This amazing woman, who lost her mother at fifteen, married before her eighteenth birthday, never received a college education, who with her husband, raised three incredible children, is an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. This woman is the one my children have the honor of calling Grandma Ellen, and I am blessed to call my mother-in love.


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And I am very lucky that this wonderful woman is my neighbor,my friend and I consider her to be my adopted aunt,she is always willing to listen to my problems and brings me little cheer up treats..Thank God she will be home in another day ,winters are very long and drab without her!

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