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Constance June Skaff Ellis passed away peacefully at the age of 94 on January 25, 2024, and now is spending eternal life with the Lord. She will be remembered for her unwavering love of her family, her selflessness, her independence, and her quiet sense of humor. She never complained or said a bad word about anybody. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” She was also known for her love of literature and the English language. She often read several books at the same time and was a well-known fixture at the public library. A familiar refrain in the Ellis household was, “Don’t be afraid to use the dictionary!” Other interests included hand-stitching her beautiful quilts, working crossword and jigsaw puzzles, cooking Lebanese food for her family, and baking her outstanding fruit pies. And, of course, her love for the University of Michigan. Go Blue!
Connie was born on June 1, 1929, in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of one, she and her parents, Michael and Geneva Skaff, moved to Grand Rapids, where she spent the remainder of her life. The family expanded to include three additional girls: Frances, Diana and Carolyn. Connie served as an excellent role model and cherished her role as big sister to them all.
At the encouragement of her father, Connie learned to fly an airplane before she learned to drive a car. During her lessons, her mother anxiously waited in the car with white knuckles. She graduated from Ottawa Hills High School in 1946 at the young age of barely 17, because she twice skipped a half grade. After high school she went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where she majored in English. She was a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and was a staff writer for The Michigan Daily. During her sophomore year of college, she suffered a life-threatening bout of double pneumonia, proving that she is one tough cookie. After graduation, she continued her education at U of M earning a master’s degree. She then taught high school English classes to juniors and seniors at Union High School in Grand Rapids, making her only a few years older than her students.
On June 23, 1956, Connie married the love of her life, Dr. Joseph S. Ellis, DDS. They built a home in East Grand Rapids and welcomed 5 children: Laura, Maureen, Joe, Carol and Rosanne. Sadly, their life together was cut short much too early when her beloved Joe died of cancer in 1968, leaving Connie to raise their 5 children ages 3-10 by herself at the young age of 39. She remained in their family home for nearly 50 years.
As her children grew up, she went back to her love of teaching and became a private tutor in her home and also a substitute teacher at East Grand Rapids junior and senior high schools. Always putting her family first, she never accepted an assignment which would put her in her children’s classrooms, for fear of embarrassing them.
More than anything, Connie was known for her love for her family. She never remarried after Joe died, devoting her entire life to the well-being of her children. She always put her children first in every move she made. Everything she did revolved around them. As time went on, she became a grandmother to 10 grandchildren, who could do no wrong in her eyes. Even though she was not a fan of Michigan winters, she never wanted to spend the winters in warmer weather because “I don’t want to miss anything here.” Over the years she could always be seen in the crowd watching her grandchildren’s musical or theater performances, sporting events, award ceremonies and graduations; she could not have been more proud. She and her sisters were life-long best friends, often reminiscing and laughing about their younger years. Throughout her life, Connie was a devoted daughter to her parents, caring for her mother in her later years. In addition, she and her children enjoyed Sunday dinners with the extended Skaff or Ellis family nearly every week.
Next to her love of family, Connie loved her church family at St. George Orthodox Church. She was a life-long member and could always be found sitting in the third pew on the right with her sister Frances. She was an active member of the Ladies Golden Links Society, serving on several committees including the annual Lebanese dinner fundraiser, Festival of the Arts, and visiting homebound parishioners.
Connie’s love for literature continued into her 80’s as she was a proud member of Shakespeariana. She enjoyed her time reading and discussing Shakespeare with her fellow members. She was also a patron of the arts in Grand Rapids, often attending shows by the Grand Rapids Symphony and Broadway Grand Rapids.
She was a loyal fan of the University of Michigan and could often be seen wearing her maize and blue. On football Saturdays, she cheered on her beloved Wolverines - whether in person, on TV or listening on the radio way back in the day.
Connie was preceded in death by her husband Joe; her parents Michael and Geneva Skaff; her in-laws Sam and Nellie Ellis; her brothers-in-law Kenneth Ellis, George Courie, Michael Skaff, Robert Ellis, Francis Ferris; and sister-in-law Frieda Ferris. She will be lovingly missed by her children Laura Ellis, Maureen (Woodrow) Tyler, Joe (Lisa) Ellis, Carol Campbell (Dave Wollerman), and Rosanne (Paul) Mack, and her ten grandchildren: Joe, Dan and Michael Tyler; Nick and Joey Ellis; Brendan and Mallory Campbell; Peter, David (Katelynn) and Thomas Mack. She is also survived by her three younger sisters Frances Ellis, Diana Courie and Carolyn Skaff; her sister-in-law Susan Ellis; and many nieces and nephews and their families.
Connie’s children would like to thank their cousin Kathy Ellis Lloyd and their aunts Frances, Diana and Carolyn for all their love, care and attention over the years. How fortunate to be surrounded by so much love! The family would also like to thank the caring staff at Beacon Hill Memory Support and Faith Hospice.
Visitation will be held Friday, February 2, 2024, from 4:30 – 7:00 pm at the Metcalf and Jonkhoff Funeral Home (4291 Cascade Rd. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546) with a Trisagion prayer service and eulogy held at 6:30 pm. The funeral service will be held on Saturday, February 3, 2024, at 11:00 am, with visitation at 10:00 am, at St. George Orthodox Church, 334 LaGrave Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. A light lunch will be served in the adjacent banquet center immediately following the service. Memorial donations can be made in Connie’s memory to St. George Orthodox Church.
St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church
334 LaGrave Ave SE, Grand Rapids MI 49503