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Doctor's wife also gave millions to college

The late Gladys Kelly Ellis bequethed $30 million to United Lutheran Seminary, where her father earned a college degree.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

The community recently learned the late Dr. George M. Ellis Jr. had made donations totaling $56.8 million to his medical school alma mater. Now it has become known that his wife, Gladys Kelly Ellis, gave $30 million to the United Lutheran Seminary.

Dr. Ellis died in 2010 and money went to the University at Buffalo, in New York. Under terms of the bequest, his name had remained anonymous until after his wife died. She died Feb. 15, 2018 at the age of 95.

In May 2018, United Lutheran Seminary, with campuses in Philadelphia and Gettysburg, Pa., announced a donation had been made in memory of James F. Kelly and Hope E. Kelly. They were Gladys Ellis’ parents. The school announced only that the gift had come from woman from the Midwest who had died earlier in the year.

The gift is one of the largest ever to a seminary associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It will be used to fund a faculty chair and student scholarships.

According to Philly.com, the Rev. James Kelly graduated from the Gettysburg Seminary campus in 1920. He died in 1983 at age 89, and his wife, Hope Anna Eyster, died in 1973.

The Rev. Kelly served as pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Wilmington, Pa., from 1926 to 1953. He also led the congregations of Christ Lutheran Church in Erie, Pa., and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lyonsville in eastern Fayette County, where he moved after he resigned from the Wilmington church.

Gladys Ellis had battled polio and rheumatic fever as a child. She became a nurse as a tribute to the nurses who served her. During World War II, she served as a nurse in Delaware, treating prisoners of war.

The Rev. Angela Zimmann, vice president for Institutional Advancement at the seminary, told Philly.com she had met with an anonymous donor in December 2017 but did not know the amount of the possible donation. The amount became known after her death when the executrix called and told her. 

Attempts to reach Zimmann by the Connersville News-Examiner were unsuccessful.

The Ellis family had shown no signs of wealth, as they used their home as their office and drove modest vehicles. The doctor would make rounds to see patients at Fayette Regional Health System and then go to the Fayette County Public Library where he read the Wall Street Journal to learn about investing in stocks. 

He set up accounts in out-of-county banks and used out-of-county investment advisors. 

His donations to his alma mater came as a surprise to local residents. Many recalled on Facebook visiting his office or having him come to their house. 

Laura Saxon Weite recalled the doctor and naming her daughter “Kelly” after his wife.

“He made house calls when I was a little girl, and I remember so well when he’d arrive carrying his little black doctors bag,” she wrote on Facebook. “I always knew when he showed up I was getting a antibiotic shot!

“He was a no nonsense doctor. He took my tonsils out when I was 17 and wouldn’t charge my parents over what the insurance wouldn’t cover. When I was pregnant he charged $5 for weekly visits when other doctors charged $50. Dr. Ellis had a passion for helping people.”