Oct. 21, 2012
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications
With their 50th wedding anniversary approaching, Maryville College alumni Dorsey D. “Dan” Ellis, Jr. ’60, and Sondra Wagner Ellis ’60 began thinking about how to celebrate the significant event.
They didn't think about gifts they might receive to mark the milestone, but gifts they would give to say “thank you” to the people and places that had been instrumental in their finding each other and leading happy, productive lives.
“As we started thinking about this anniversary and talking about it, we both agreed that we should do something for Maryville College,” said Dan, who attended his last Board meeting Friday and ends 21 total years of service on the Board, seven of that as chairman. “The College has meant a lot to Sondra and me throughout our lives. We received an outstanding education, and it introduced us to each other.”
On Friday, Maryville College Board Chairman Wayne Kramer '74 announced to the Board of Directors that the Ellises had given $100,000 in honor of the golden anniversary they’ll celebrate on Dec. 27. Half will go toward the campaign to renovate Anderson Hall; the other half will fund a scholarship for biology students.
“When we talked about the amount of the gift, we wondered what would be a good number,” Sandra recounted. “Fifty-thousand popped in our minds because of the 50-year anniversary – then we thought ‘Why not $50,000 each?’”
The Anderson Hall gift will place the Ellises’ names on the reception area of the second floor, which will serve the College’s Humanities Division.
Dan majored in history at Maryville and went on to law school at the University of Chicago. Earning his doctorate of jurisprudence in 1963, he practiced law with Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City for five years before entering law teaching. He was a law faculty member at the University of Iowa, and then became a vice president of the university. In 1987, he became dean of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, a position he held until 1998, when he was appointed the William R. Orthwein Distinguished Professor of Law. Today he is dean emeritus.
Sondra was a biology major who was awarded a fellowship to Vassar College, where she earned a master’s degree in 1962. She worked in research at Argonne National Laboratory at the University of Chicago and then Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Ellises have two children: Laura Elizabeth Ellis, an attorney in Washington, D.C.; and Geoffrey Ellis, who works for J.P. Morgan in Chicago.
Dan and Sondra were friends throughout their undergraduate years at Maryville. They met in the Margaret Ware Dining Room. Meals then were served family-style, and students were assigned to a table. Student servers were also assigned to specific tables.
“He was my waiter for three years, but I’ve spent the last 50 in reverse,” Sondra said with a laugh.
Following graduation, Dan went to Chicago, and Sondra went to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., but the two kept in touch through letter-writing.
After two years of corresponding, they had a two-week courtship and were engaged. They got married in Ft. Myers, Fla., between semesters in 1962.
“As they say, the rest is history,” Dan said.
The Ellises said they believe that Maryville College’s liberal arts education prepared them well for professional careers and rewarding personal lives.
“It stimulated us to go on learning,” Dan said. “We’re both avid readers and have a lot of common interests, including literature, history and music,” Dan said.
Sondra said Maryville College gave them the “opportunity to be friends,” and friendship was an important foundation on which to build a marriage.
“After six years of being friends, we knew each other very well,” she explained.
Many other couples met at Maryville College, and the Ellises hope their anniversary gift will inspire them to remember the place that introduced them to their spouses when they celebrate milestone years.
“Today, it’s not that common for marriages to last decades, but there are a number of couples from our years at the College who still have enduring and loving marriages,” Dan said.
Sondra said their anniversary gift to the College isn’t their first gift, and it won’t be their last, but they hope it’s one people remember.
“I hope we can be an example to other people,” Sondra said.
Maryville College President Dr. William T. “Tom” Bogart said the Ellises have been great examples for decades.
“Since their graduation in 1960, Dan and Sondra Ellis have been incredibly generous alumni. Not only have they given financially, they have given of themselves — in providing leadership for the College, planning and hosting outreach events, mentoring students and volunteering during Kin Takahashi Week,” he said. “On behalf of Maryville College, I want to express appreciation to the Ellises for their many selfless acts, especially this most recent decision to celebrate their milestone wedding anniversary with a gift to the College that will fund two very important initiatives: the interior renovation of Anderson Hall and ongoing scholarship support.”
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state‘s third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for its academic rigor and its focus on the liberal arts, Maryville is where students come to stretch their minds, stretch themselves and learn how to make a difference in the world. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester was 1,168.