In Appreciation Of Dick Ellis

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Opinion / Oct. 8, 2015 9:42am EDT


Dick Ellis conducts the Royalton Town Band in the Randolph Independence Day parade in 2012. (Herald File / Tim Calabro) Dick Ellis conducts the Royalton Town Band in the Randolph Independence Day parade in 2012. (Herald File / Tim Calabro) Where is one to start when appraising the life of Dick Ellis of South Royalton, who died last Wednesday?

In one sense, a giant void has appeared in Central Vermont’s cultural and civic life. Reading through the obituary on the facing page is astounding. Dick Ellis wove his love of music and community into a fabric that lasted a long lifetime and that spread across the whole White River Valley, and farther.

Possessed of an extraordinary musical talent, he studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He was so good at his chosen instrument that he played with professional bands in New York and elsewhere, including with Gene Krupa, one of the best jazz drummers of the Big Band era. Certainly, he could have made a successful career of it.

But he didn’t. He came home to South Royalton, married a 19-year-old South Royalton girl, and he joined the Lion’s Club and the United Church, and he started his own company—a music company, of course.

The Ellis Music Company is legendary among music teachers throughout Vermont, helping them match their students with good instruments at a reasonable price. It was his life’s work, and it enriched the students of Vermont.

Meanwhile, outside of work, Ellis was a tireless contributor to every kind of good work within the community, and always with a smile that showed his pleasure in doing so.

A lot of those contributions were musical too, of course.

Generations of young people danced to the Keynotes, which took advantage of his musical schooling in the city; and that was just one of the bands he played in. He gave music lessons on probably a dozen instruments throughout the area.

And, of course, he started a town band.

There’s a reason that South Royalton is the only town in Vermont to have TWO bandstands on its town green. The reason is that 71 years ago Dick formed The South Royalton Town Band. That band, which he conducted in parades and in weekly concerts on the green almost until his death, is one of Vermont’s musical treasures.

It was as popular with its musicians as with the public, so it outgrew the historical bandstand on the handsome green. A second, much bigger, bandstand was built with the support of the townspeople, who also decided not to give away the old one, just in case.

Dick Ellis’s contributions ranged far beyond music, however. He started and coached Little League teams, according to his obituary, and was a very important and persuasive part of town government—on the selectboard for six years and the school board for 12.

Thanks to the success of his business, he was also a significant philanthropist in his community and statewide. Sometimes the philanthropy was publicly acknowledged, but often it was done quietly—South Royalton students who wanted to take music lessons, for instance, found that half of the cost of their lessons would be paid by Dick Ellis.

And so there is a sadness at his passing, a void. But the bigger story is that Dick Ellis himself taught how to fill a void, how to approach life with an enthusiasm that creates connections at every hand. Residents of the whole White River Valley now have a model of what “community” can mean and what we can all do to make it flourish.

Thanks, Dick. We won’t forget.

M.D.D.

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