I serve on the Southwestern University Board of Trustees. At various times during the year, I rise early to drive north the 30 miles from my central Austin home to Georgetown where the university resides. Southwestern is a beautiful liberal arts campus of stone buildings that surround the grassy commons. Going from the rush of Austin traffic to the peaceful tree-lined walkways of Southwestern is always a welcome change.
I leave early to beat the traffic and enter Mabee Commons for breakfast before my meetings. When I walk up to the check-in station, I am greeted with the loudest “How y’all doing?” and a hug from Ms. Ella. She grins from ear-to-ear and moves faster than most track stars. I am infrequently on campus but she greets me like long-lost family. Over time, I realized that she does this with all who come into the university to dine.
I am a morning person and most productive during the first half of my day. Ms. Ella exhibits all-day energy. When the Board has dinner together, Ms. Ella is usually there serving dishes with the same high energy level and love for all. I once asked her about her high energy level and she replied, “I go to sleep early.”
During a recent Board meeting, I could not find hot water for my tea. She ran up to me and asked me what I needed. She then ran to the back and brought me a cup of hot water. The next morning during check-in, she showed me the carafe of hot water and tea bags prepared for me in advance. I was warm inside before drinking my tea.
I am not the only one to see Ms. Ella’s servant spirit. In November 2018, a campus bench was given in her honor with a plaque that reads: “In recognition of your delightful spirit and the joy you bring to all around you, this bench is dedicated in your honor and as a place for friends and strangers to meet and share joy with one another. It is the love you selflessly share across the Southwestern campus and throughout the Georgetown community that inspired the Marvin D. Henderson ’41 family to donate funds for this bench. Thank you for showing us how to love, respect, and serve freely!”
I have never asked Ms. Ella about her faith but I really don’t need to have this discussion. I see it in her smile, joy and love. I see God’s light within her and I feel God’s love through her actions. I see the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) exhibited during her work which points towards the new creation. Ms. Ella’s servanthood work is as honed as a skilled medical doctor or renown musician. She lifts up our community each day with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Let us all remember Ms. Ella’s famous words while we work: “What day is it? Friday! YAY!!”