Mae Ellingson-Skalicky, Benefactor Clara’s daughter
My mother, Clara Egge-Ellingson, born on May 4, 1893 on a small farm in northeastern North Dakota, was a woman of great tenacity and strength. Despite difficult hardships in her life, Clara was a warm-hearted, giving woman who provided a home where children were always welcome and nurtured. My dream for “Clara’s House” is to provide a place where children feel welcome and comfortable and can develop their own sense of strength, determination, and self-worth.
Clara’s mother died shortly after the birth of her last child. At the age of eleven, Clara had to leave school to take care of her brother and sisters and the household. At a very early age she learned the responsibility of taking care of children.
At the age of 22, Clara married our father, Olie Ellingson. Our family lived on the farm where he was born and raised, a few miles from Mother’s birth place. She gave birth to 11 children, each one borne at the farm home. I was the second to the last child borne to Clara and Olie.
We were raised on the farm that had no electricity, indoor plumbing, refrigerator, or telephone. Besides growing various crops on the farm we also raised many animals, such as cows, chickens and pigs. Mother spent summers tending to a large garden and canning the vegetables for winter; we produced nearly all our food on the farm. My mother did all of the cooking and baking on a wood stove, and she washed the clothes by hand in a large tub and hung them outdoors to dry. We traveled by foot or by horse and wagon when needed.
When my mother was 44 years old, in 1937, she was widowed when my father was killed in an accident. She was left with the sole responsibility of caring for eleven children ranging in age from ten months to twenty years, and running the family farm.
In 1941, the beginning of World War II, my mother had to watch her three eldest sons leave to war. This produced new hardships for our family as now we younger children had to help Mother run the farm.
After the war and her three eldest sons returned home safely, Clara moved to a small house built by her in-laws in Adams, ND. She raised us four youngest children in this small town where she found various types of work, such as being a cook at the school when the school lunch program started.
Clara was a very determined and hard working woman, and she was very happy and content with her life. I remember Mother always whistling or singing while she worked. She was happiest when tending her yard and flower beds, or making many home-made birthday and Christmas gifts throughout the year.
Grandma Clara, as she was known by many, had a small, simple home where children were always welcome. Grandma Clara’s was a place where children felt comfortable and comforted. Her home smelled like a bakery from the breads, donuts, and cookies she baked and had on hand for children and visitors. Children were never shooed away or shushed at Grandma Clara’s home. Their presence and chatter were always encouraged. Children felt free to rummage through the “junk” drawer in her kitchen, to wander through her flower beds, or to play with the many windmills and statues scattered about her yard. There was a large tree in her yard that the children tried to climb, and when they finally succeeded a picture was taken of them perched in “Grandma’s Tree.” Grandma Clara never hesitated to hug a child or defend a child. She was a child advocate long before child advocacy became formally and legally recognized.
Clara lived to be 85 years old and to see 40 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren born. Several more great-grandchildren were born after she passed away. Her life span went from traveling on foot and by horse and buggy to seeing men land on the moon.
Clara’s life circumstances were made more difficult by poverty and a limited education, and the abuse of alcohol by many of her loved ones. She remained steadfast in her optimistic outlook on life. She had a very strong faith that never seemed to falter. Mother’s lack of material wealth or limited education never stopped her from giving. She gave her time and love to children and all who knew her.
This is why I feel “Clara’s House” to be an appropriate name for this child and adolescent behavioral health center. My hope is that all who are involved in the care and treatment of the children at Clara’s House will also give of their time and love so these children will have a comfortable, safe, and loving “home” to heal and grow in the ways needed to change their lives forever.