Apr. 3, 1924 - Feb. 21, 2014
On February 21, 2014 Calexico's "True Ambassador of Good Will" passed away peacefully after a life of community service. Richard Ellis, affectionately known by family and friends as Richie, was born to Sam and Salwa Ellis on April 3rd, 1924 in Calexico, CA. He spent his childhood attending Calexico public schools and graduated from Calexico High School in 1943, where he played football and developed many lifelong friendships. Shortly after graduation Richie boarded a bus to provide service to his country during World War II. As a member of the U.S. Army, he started basic training at McClellan Field near Sacramento, CA and later entered the European Theater. In Europe he was wounded by enemy fire that ricocheted off a pen in his shirt pocket and prevented a potentially life threatening injury. Treatment for his injuries occurred in Great Britain and Richie was presented with the Award for Military Merit - The Purple Heart. After witnessing the horror of war he gratefully returned to Calexico, where he found contentment in serving the community that he learned to cherish from the examples of philanthropy set by his father.
Mr. Ellis became a fixture at the Sam Ellis Store from the mid 1940's until 2005 when declining health conditions limited his ability to maintain his precise schedule. From his command post at the service counter he successfully managed the family business with his father and older siblings: brother Ernesto and sisters Mimi and Alma, while monitoring the pulse of the community. Richie could regularly be found discussing politics, sports, or current events, with employees, customers, and traveling salespersons. His greatest satisfaction came from meeting the needs of charities, civic organizations, sports teams, educational institutions, and individuals. He rarely said no to any request, and if he could not meet the need personally he would rally family, friends, business associates, and acquaintances to support causes he was fond of.
He served as a distinguished member of the Calexico Lions Club, from its beginning and served as President during 1957-58. On February 24, 1995 Richard was presented with a Humanitarian Award on behalf of Lions International by the Calexico Noontimers Lions Club in appreciation for his philanthropy and humanitarian efforts for the citizens of the City of Calexico and beyond. The Imperial County Board of Supervisors also recognized his unselfish service by proclaiming the day "Richard Ellis Day" in the county. In an article commemorating this day, written by then County Supervisor Wayne Van De Graaff, it was stated "Richie is silent, a true humanitarian who does not ask for recognition for those things he does. In fact very few, if anyone knew the full extent of the things he does and the people he helps."
It was through a friendship fostered with Van De Graaff that began in 1955, which led to the tireless efforts assisting crippled children from the United States and Mexico. In 1965 the two realized that the project, which had started in 1961, would be an ongoing program that required increased structure. Their efforts, combined with other members of the Calexico Lions Clubs, formed the Valley Orthopedic Clinic. Richie became the founding president of the organization and was a board member and generous contributor to the clinic for the majority of his life. Clinic members and staff developed partnerships with medical institutions and doctors in Southern California. Clinics were regularly held in their Calexico facility. Patients and their families needing access to treatment in Los Angeles were transported in clinic buses. In 1995 it was estimated that the clinic had arranged medical services that expanded beyond orthopedic disciplines to include vision, cosmetic surgery, cardiac, otolaryngology and cancer treatments for over 75,000 children from both sides of the border.
Through acquaintances with patrons of the Sam Ellis Store Richie became aware of the dismal conditions of many Mexicali Valley public schools. To assist with this need he partnered with cousins Leo and George Chade in Orange County who secured used school furnishings at school district auctions. Richie would then arrange and cover the cost of transporting the items to Calexico and eventually crossing them into Mexico. The difficult, bureaucratic process of crossing much needed equipment across the border usually left Richie frustrated, however it never kept him from continuing the process year after year.
Richie is survived by his sister Alma Ellis Hems and was preceded in death by brother Ernesto in 1996 and sister Mimi in 2007. Although he never married, Uncle Richie was a supportive, devoted uncle to surviving nieces and nephews; Ernesto Ellis Jr. (Olga), Alma Ann Stjerne (Jim), Marcia Ellis, Jean Seski (John), Mark Holloway, Karen Brundy (Tom), Kirk Hems (Jamie) and Kenton Hems (René). Nephew Craig Holloway preceded his uncle into eternity in 1971.
Funeral services to celebrate Richie's remarkable life will include a Visitation Friday, March 7th, 2014 from 6 to 9 p.m. in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Calexico, CA, with a Rosary commencing at 7 p.m. The Mass, officiated by Father Mark Edney, will be held at the church on Saturday, March 8th, 2014 at 12 p.m. Interment will be at Mt. View Cemetery in Calexico immediately following the Mass.
To perpetually extend the giving spirit of Sam Ellis, Richard had an instrumental role in forming and establishing The Sam and Salwa Ellis Family Foundation. This organization has been able to realize the intended mission of providing financial assistance to non-profit institutions serving the Imperial and Mexicali Valleys and beyond. In lieu of floral tributes the family requests memorial contributions be made to continue the legacy Richie personified. Tax-deductible donations can be made to The Sam and Salwa Ellis Family Foundation, 619 Paulin Avenue, Suite 104, Calexico, CA 92231 or to St. Judes Children's Research Hospital, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105.