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Ellen Catharine Newton Duell

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The following obituary was written by Ellen in 2007 and updated June 28, 2024, by her daughter, Reine Marie Duell Bethany.

Ellen was born March 27, 1929, and died June 28, 2024, age 95.

Hello, each and all! Since I’m writing this myself, I’ll speak in the first person, even though when you read it, I’ll be in another dimension known only to the loving God in whom I deeply believe.

I was born in the small mountain town of Bluefield, Virginia — actually, in Bluefield, West Virginia, since the hospital was in that part of the twin towns. “Home” to me and my parents was my maternal grandmother’s house at the end of the road going out of Bluefield, where the music of the Bluestone River sang lullabies to me. I was the firstborn of my parents, Ellen Catharine James Newton and Ralph Kenneth Newton, both of whom had grown up in Bluefield. I was named for my mother by my romantic father (only without the “James”). They called me “Kitty,” which seems like my “real” name to me. I dearly loved the mountains.

When I was 4 years old, my parents moved to Madison, Wisconsin, intending it to be only until my father could complete doctoral work at the university there. The “Great Depression” intervened, so we stayed in Madison. When I was 15, my sister Alice was born, and two years later, my brother Jamie. I met my future husband, Seth Joseph Duell, at the First Baptist Church in Madison; he graduated in 1947 from the UW as a Mechanical Engineer in the Navy V-12 Officers Training program. However, he became sincerely convinced that war among human beings was wrong, and, with my heartfelt support, was given an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector.

My family moved to Glendale, Arizona, and there Seth and I were wed on Dec. 26, 1949. We made our home in Madison until I received my diploma in child development from the University of Wisconsin; then we moved to Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York, where Seth studied full time for the American Baptist Ministry. We lived at “students pastorates,” and I loved our two years in the beautiful Bristol Valley in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Our first child, Debbie, was born while we lived at the seminary, and our son Danny was born when we lived in Bristol.

In March of 1954, Seth was called to begin a new American Baptist church in Page Manor, on the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio. In June of that year, our daughter Reine was born. Most of the attenders and members of our new congregation were Air Force families, and some of these professional people were African American. There were homes for sale, and Seth preached that these homes should be available to all regardless of skin color. This stand was not acceptable to our supporting churches, so Seth returned to his engineering career. He was hired by National Cash Register Company in 1958. By this time, our fourth child, Joey, was 2 years old.

During the next year, our fifth child, Amy Jo, was born. We lived in a rented home in Kettering. In September of 1959, we bought a comfortable and beautiful home in Dayton View, on two lots at the corner of Oxford Avenue and Rosedale Drive. For nearly 45 years, this was our beloved home. I mothered our children, saw to their music and ballet lessons, joined the Dayton Music Club as a performer in drama and worked for justice in housing and good neighborhood relations. We became members of the Congregation for Reconciliation, and hosted the House Church monthly and also the Christmas celebrations. I taught kindergarten at Miami Valley School for four years, and primary grades at Jefferson, Highview and Lincoln schools; I earned my Master of Science degree in educational media in 1977 and spent one happy year as librarian at Webster and Highview schools. At age 60, I happily retired from classroom teaching.

I’ve always loved to be in natural settings, and took our children to the wonderful educational and “Junior Naturalist” offerings at the Dayton Museum of Natural History. We visited Glen Helen and our conservancy parks for picnics. When Seth, newly retired from engineering, became ill in 2003, we came to Yellow Springs, where he has been greatly helped as a resident at Friends Care Center, and I bought a house on Lamont Road near the village. We became members of the Yellow Springs Friends Meeting. Our lives have been rich with the treasures of friendship at the Care Center and in this community. Our grown children enjoy their visits from other parts of the country. I am very grateful for my life.

Addendum by Reine Duell Bethany on the evening of June 28, 2024:

Mother was born March 27, 1929. She died on June 26, 2024, age 95.

My copy of her self-obituary shows a brief note in her handwriting: “addition re: Joe.”

Joe died by suicide on Feb. 16, 1986, in New York City, where he was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. The devastating grief that we Duells felt was handled with grace and wisdom by Mother and Dad. Their capacity to express profound emotion, while moving strongly forward with earthly life, set a wonderful example for Debbie, Dan, me (Reine) and Amy Jo.

Mother’s steady faith sustained us all when Dad fell ill with heart and adrenal disease late in 2002. She got Dad into Friends Care Center, and then moved to Yellow Springs so she could be near him.

Mother continued to maintain her connections with peace and justice organizations such as the Dayton Peace Museum, as well as arts organizations, in both Dayton and Yellow Springs. She attended yearly protests for peace on Xenia Avenue, taking Dad along, and we in her family joined if we were visiting.

When visiting, we family members also attended Yellow Springs Friends meetings, where Mother played hymns for worship. She brought Dad to those meetings, too. At her house, she hosted monthly meetings of the Congregation for Reconciliation.

Dad died at Friends Care Center on July 6, 2008, age 83. At that time, it was becoming clear that Amy Jo was mortally ill with heart and lung disease. Mother lived with Amy and her devoted husband, Enrique Gonzales-Medina, in Sierra Madre, just outside Los Angeles, for five months during late 2008, until Amy could leave the hospital. Meanwhile, Debbie was also succumbing to heart and lung disease. Mother traveled to Orlando, Florida, several times, to help out.

Both Debbie and Amy Jo died in 2010. I cannot express the depth of my admiration for Mother’s sustaining composure during this time. She participated fully in memorial services for Debbie and Amy Jo, and then hosted a memorial service for Dad at Friends Care Center in late June of 2010.

It was our joy when my husband, Charley Bethany, and I moved Mother from Yellow Springs to our home in Hempstead, New York, in March of 2016. Her sister, Alice, and brother, Jamie, were constantly supportive and came to visit regularly, as did my brother, Dan, and my brother-in-law, Enrique.

In Hempstead, Mother attended the weddings of her grandchildren and reveled in the births of her great-grandchildren. She emailed her friends constantly. When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Zoom meetings on Sundays with Yellow Springs Friends, Mother joined the Zooms each week, until she broke her femur on Sept. 2, 2022. By then, her capacity for self-care had declined so that she needed to be in care facilities near my husband and me.

When her health failed at last, Mother died very peacefully in her sleep. Her wish for cremation is being handled by Hempstead Funeral Home. We will hold a memorial service when we bring her ashes to Dayton for interment at Woodland Cemetery. Everyone who knew her will be welcome to attend.


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