Plymouth Harbor may not be able to find a more enthusiastic advocate and admirer than resident Ellen Harrison. Sitting down over coffee in the Plymouth Rock Café, she was sure offer up the seats with the best view to her guests remarking on the unbeatable scenery of Sarasota Bay and the nearby mangroves.
Of course the purpose of our interview is to talk about Ellen and her many life experiences, but she was determined to pair anything she divulged about her personal life with some factual information or praise for the remarkable community of Plymouth Harbor.
And so it is remarkable, but it was Ellen’s mother who discovered that for herself first. Ellen and her late husband, Vance, fell in love with the architecture of Plymouth Harbor, as well as Sarasota’s warm weather and many art-related activities while visiting her mother.
The couple lived in Winnetka, Illinois where she taught at Winnetka Junior High School. She and Vance had met while students at Cornell University. Once married, they moved to Connecticut where Ellen earned a master’s degree in Education at the University of Connecticut. Vance’s work in radio and television eventually landed the family—which now included four children—in Chicago, where Ellen was a docent at the Art Institute for 15 years.
Shy to speak of her adventures, this native of Kinston, North Carolina, only glancingly described moving to New York with her mother after her father died. Ellen was in high school at the time and left to fend largely for herself while her mother studied at Columbia University.
Despite her reticence to share her stories, Ellen has never hesitated to get involved volunteer for many years in Winnetka civic and community activities including the League of Women Voters, Junior League, social services and youth activities. When she and Vance moved to Plymouth Harbor in 2002, Ellen got involved in some of Plymouth Harbor’s many resident committees.
Within those first years, Ellen was active with the Program, Décor, and Library committees. “The library is run completely by the residents,” she said beaming with pride. “We add ten to twelve new books each month. There is an enormous amount here at Plymouth Harbor to keep your mind and body going.”
“Plymouth Harbor is so very different from most other senior communities,” Ellen points out. “Our committees tackle important tasks and get things done.” She is the person who would know. After serving as chairman of the Program Committee she was elected to serve as President of the Residents Association. In this capacity, she represented residents on the Plymouth Harbor Board of Trustees for a total of 6 years.
There are always three residents serving on the Board of Trustees at any given time. They are the Resident Association President-Elect, current President, and Immediate Past-President. During her years on the Board, Ellen saw major renovations of the lobby and dining rooms, electrical upgrades throughout the community and the groundbreaking for the new Wellness Center still under construction.
Much of the success, she feels, can be attributed to CEO Harry Hobson, who she describes as “very approachable.” Ellen says unequivocally, “We’re lucky to have him.”
The feeling is probably mutual. At a recent Residents Association meeting Harry Hobson acknowledged Ellen for her outstanding work on the council from 2011-2014 and praised her as a consensus builder. Ellen’s first official duty was the ribbon cutting upon completion of the Northwest Passage connecting the tower mezzanine and the West Garden. Now at the end of her term of service, she was presented an award for her conscientious and outstanding leadership.
For the first time in many years, she has few official obligations and she is looking forward to some extra spare time to relax and enjoy her reading. In May, she’ll travel to Martha’s Vineyard where she will vacation with family as she has done for many years.
While she does enjoy these summers up North, I bet she will miss Plymouth Harbor, or at least her time in the dining room! Ask her about the food and her eyes light up. “This is the best food I’ve ever had!” she says. “I love asparagus, and here it’s always perfect. Chef René really cares.”
As if on cue, our discussion ends and 20 or so culinary-minded residents come into the cafe on time for Executive Chef René Weder’s weekly “Café Chat.” Chef Rene, white-clad and complete with chef’s hat, arrives, and a lively conversation ensues.