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In Memory of Ellen Catherine Gstalder
June 26, 1976 – May 27, 2004

Ellen Gstalder on 9/27/03


Comments on Ellen from Her Family

You all know Ellen, most of you directly and a few through one of us, so the purpose of these words is not to tell you about Ellen. To know her from any context is to love her, and that is enough.

Although she was the youngest, over the years Ellen has become the hero to this family and our mentor and we want you to know the reasons why.

Ellen was courageous. She lived the message of Pentecost: to replace fear with faith and go forward. She looked straight at her world and taught us all how to respond. Immediately after college she joined Teach for America. At 21 years old and with only a few weeks of educational training, she began to teach in Washington, D.C. in an inner-city public school that was under-funded and de facto 100% segregated in students and staff. After a period of testing she was accepted and loved by her students, fellow teachers and administration. At the end of the two-year Teach for America commitment, she opted to stay on as a regular Washington D. C. teacher. This was the job she had when she became ill.

She faced her illness with unrelenting courage. In four years she never complained, never asked "Why me?" She was known throughout the hospital for her strength and determination. Her oncologist took the unusual step several times to ask Ellen to talk to other patients to alleviate their fears.

Ellen accomplished so much in 23 years of health and 4 of illness. As her parents we can tell you that we did her no great favors with genetically transferred talents. It was rather her determination and leadership that carried her through. She was the captain of her high school swim team, but would never set a record; the hard-working catcher and co-captain of the softball team. She learned photography in the family and through courses at Greeley and became the photo editor of her high school year-book and college newspaper. She went from academic probation as a freshman at Georgetown to an honors student as a senior. Following a physically-devastating stem cell transplant process, she spent a year at the Institute of Culinary Education and received her professional chef certificate. She wanted to use her nutritional interest and cooking expertise for the greater good. She applied to and had been accepted into the Masters Degree of Public Health program at the Steinhardt School of Education of New York University for the Fall 2004 semester.

Ellen enjoyed God's world in all its manifestations. She was a back-packer and sailor who loved living in New York City. She was a good cook before studying for her chef's certificate and an outstanding cook afterward. She saw every episode of Friends and read every Booker Prize winning novel.

Ellen was stubborn. She woke up every night for the first five years of her life demanding to come into her parents' bed because, as she later explained, it was more comfortable there. Her stubbornness matured into a strength. She would not tolerate injustice to herself, to a friend, to a people. She wanted to change our educational system at the highest level so that impoverished school systems such as those in the Anacostia section of Washington would receive their fair share of funding and attention. More recently she planned to combine her graduate degree, food knowledge, teaching and cancer experiences into a lifetime work of changing the nutrition of America. She could not tolerate the lack of nutrition that was a part of poverty. She learned that cancer patients need food that is high in nutrition, easy to prepare and appealing. As she could not find a cookbook that addressed these issues, she had started writing one herself.

Finally and most importantly, Ellen was full of love that she generously shared. In every stage of her life, she found more people to love. She continually reached out to family, friends and strangers, always looking out for us, always wanting to take care of us. Her concern combined with common sense made her often the counselor of choice to her friends. She would always find the one person alone in a crowded room and go there. In her illness she was constantly concerned about sparing us pain. She simply glowed with love for us. All of us here today reflect her love and are nurtured by it.