Deborah Ann Ellis truly loved Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). She often said she was “never happier” than when on the trail in the Smokies. With the 2005 purchase of our cabin in Townsend, we discovered Tremont and quickly became involved with the Institute. While we hiked in many areas of the park, it was always Tremont that remained her favorite. In addition to hiking and learning to fly fish, Debbie found simple joy and solace sitting atop a great rock beside the Middle Prong of the Little River, or seated on the rustic bench just above the cascade on the Middle Prong, which was her favorite place in the Smokies. In addition to her love of GSMNP, she was a passionate gardener, an accomplished porcelain painter—everything from miniature birdhouses to umbrella stands—and a writer, publishing “Elkmont Settlement: A Microcosm of Appalachian Challenges,” in Perspectives in History (Northern Kentucky University, Vol. XXIII, 2007-2008).

On the professional level, she was a nurse at St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Edgewood, Kentucky, for forty-two years, beginning her career there in 1971 as an intensive care nurse and retiring in 2013, after serving as an infection preventionist for the last thirty-five years of her distinguished career, with repeated national certifications by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology. A lifelong student always eager for knowledge, she earned her licensed practical nursing degree in 1970, a registered nursing degree in 1974, and a bachelor’s degree, with honors, in liberal studies in 2008.

I fell in love with Debbie in high school in 1967, and we married in West Berlin, Germany, in 1970. After 45 years of marriage and 48 years of loving her, I know much about what she valued in her all-too-brief life. In addition to being a lovely woman in every lovely way, she had a deeply caring heart and loved her family and friends beyond description.

Among her life achievements, she carried a great pride in being a Girl Scout—she asked that her badge-filled sash be displayed at her funeral. And she always knew she wanted to be a nurse, never wavering on that career goal from the day I met her. But among her most cherished childhood memories were those days she spent at summer camp in northern Kentucky. Knowing how she felt about camp and its direct connection to enriching her love of nature and friendships, I decided she would be honored to know that, in her name, each year two campers will be able to attend summer camp at Tremont, inside the glorious Smokies, close to the soothing murmurings of mountain streams and the mysteries and delights one discovers in exploring the natural world.

My son and I are most pleased to provide these opportunities in Debbie’s memory for children to engage with nature in the Smokies, in what Debbie considered a veritable garden of wonder and delight.

Join me and send a child to Tremont by donating to the Debbie Ellis Woods & Waters Fund.  Email iris@gsmit.org to donate today.

Written by Ron Ellis