Ellen Smith died April 7, 2012 in the company of her family. Her peaceful passage was eased by their presence and the time they shared with her in her last moments, loving her.
Ellen was born to Mary and Fred Mendenhall in San Francisco on September 21, 1925. As a child she developed a love of animals, including her dog Spot, her pet turkey Tom (demise predictable) and Seabiscuit, the race horse. She never met Seabiscuit, but she did stay home from school to listen to the race — unthinkable in those days.
She attended UC Berkeley and graduated in 1947 with a degree in education. While at CAL her Phi Mu sisters dubbed her “Melon,” a contraction of Mary Ellen. During her first teaching job in 1949 in Chester, Calif. she met Hugh Joseph Smith, Jr. They married on August 12, 1951 in Phoenix, lighting a smoldering ember which became a lifelong flame and a marriage of more than 60 years.
Ellen was a teacher. She taught children. She saw the good in every child. She did not judge. She was committed to the welfare of every child, and worked tirelessly to ensure that all of her students had a great opportunity to learn. During the latter part of her career she pioneered elementary environmental education, a passion she shared with her daughters and anyone who would listen. Her teaching career took her to Pleasant Hill and Santa Barbara (paradise in her eyes), and ultimately she retired in 1992 after teaching more than 20 years in Carson City.
She was a formidable grammatacist. She was not shy about correcting all grammatical errors; it was the Queen’s English or silence. Her linguistic precision is a legacy left to her three daughters, who also unfortunately cringe at and correct many of the same errors.
Melon loved to read, and many summer days found her happily reading in the afternoon sunshine. She loved a good garden, and many hours were devoted to the planning and planting and eventually harvesting the fruits of the garden. What a fitting name Melon was for a garden goddess.
Ever active in community events, she performed in several Proscenium Players productions, unforgettably singing in a couple of them. When Proscenium Players disbanded, she became a charter member of the Brewery Arts Center. She shared her musical talent playing guitar with ‘Jane and Friends,’ a group of musicians that toured retirement centers playing for the residents. She was a member of Phi Mu and Delta Kappa Gamma. During her retirement years she remained active with the NEA and AARP, attending legislative sessions, recording events and lobbying for legislation relevant to education. She volunteered at the Nevada State Railroad Museum weekly until her sight began failing. Until recently she participated with the Carson City Retired Teachers Association and the less formal ‘Fritchies,’ teaching staff from Fritsch Elementary School.
She is survived by her husband Hugh, daughters Kim Schmidt, Jill Calkins and Lisa Maisano, grandchildren Kris Swanson, Jeremy Zutter, Lindsey Beaupre, Mike Zutter, Jennifer Schmidt, David Schmidt, Megan Marthis, and three great-grandchildren.
Please join us at a memorial service to be held in her honor at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 19, 2012 at the First United Methodist Church, 412 West Musser St. Refreshments will be served afterwards. Flowers are welcome but in lieu of flowers, the family believes she would love to have donations made in her memory to the Nature Conservancy at my.nature.org/donate/memorial-giving.html, or The Nature Conservancy; Attn: Treasury; 4245 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100; Arlington, VA 22203.