ELLA: The Early Years

Acknowledgements: 2002, the late Dr Si Siwak created much of this summary of the Early Years history.
The following individuals contributed their thoughts and memories with quotes (italicized throughout): Beverly Brown, Valerie Cload, Dennis Foth, Mildred Jowsey, Ray Lieberman, Pat Shields, Inge Vermeulen.  Lynn Skillen compiled the quotes from contributors. Shirley Zylstra formatted the booklet.

Prior to the formation of ELLA, the Faculty of Extension offered a Spring Program for Older Adults that ran for over 25 years. In 2001, the Faculty notified the registrants that this would be the final year for the program due to massive cutbacks of funding for post-secondary institutions.

As the news of this spread throughout the registrants, a key group of individuals decided that simply would not do! The coffee conversation and noon-hour get-togethers were consumed with the topic. Ideas began to surface: rebellion, collaboration, volunteerism, and action.

Patricia Shields: A lot of people were very upset. There was widespread dismay.

Valerie Cload and Pat Shields: We have to do something about it.

Inge Vermeulen:  This idea was so logical an event like a natural birth. I never had any doubt that we would do this again.

The registrants circulated a petition:

Valerie Cload:  described Dr. Si Siwak going into every classroom with the petition in a Safeway disposable briefcase (a plastic Safeway’s bag).

Petition: We the undersigned, wish you to know how much we enjoy the Seniors’ Spring and Fall Programs. It is a known medical fact that seniors, who are mentally stimulated, lead healthier and more productive lives, thus reducing the burden on society. While appreciating that the University may wish to make all programs financially viable, it is our fervent hope that no attempt be made by the ‘powers that be’ to either curtail or terminate our Seniors’ Programs. It is worth remembering that at some point in the near future, we all become seniors.

The University of Alberta acknowledged the petition but stated that the Fall Program was put on hold, and that the Spring Program was not economically viable. A new model would need to be created.

Valerie Cload: We talked around the coffee table in the Ed building. Marilyn [Chinnery] was there. The idea came from David Chinnery, an accountant. We could form a non-profit society. The germ of the idea was that it was a volunteer society.

Throughout July of 2001, key people began to meet to discuss possible ideas.

Valerie Cload: July 4, 2001 The “Gang of Five” met at Chinnery’s home; July 27, 2001. A meeting was held at Nellie’s Teashop…14 attended. People attending agreed to undertake some chores. Pat agreed to register the Association, which we had named and did so at her own cost of $175. 

Beverley Brown: My memory goes back to the phone call ‘would I come to a meeting at Nellie’s Tea house’… At this meeting it was not whether we could put it together but rather how. Another meeting was called for August 2001 and by this time, Marilyn had met with Dr Dennis Foth and a lot of the footwork had been done. We needed a name and I well remember Marilyn sending me to the blackboard to write down various names as they were called out. Edmonton Lifelong Learners stood out and of course the acronym ELLA. It took about 2 minutes to come up with this name!

Valerie Cload: Marilyn was elected President and empowered to use our petition of 143 signatures. …with the great help of Dr Dennis Foth and Dr Gerry Glassford ELLA was born. Gerry and Dennis supported us the whole way through.

Marilyn Chinnery secured St. Timothy’s Anglican Church for the meetings, which we still use today!

Valerie Cload:  Marilyn had organized large blackboards with rolls of paper…various committees were created…and elected their own chairs. …I became the spokesman and the vice chair of Publicity.

Patricia Shields: Marilyn Chinnery was on the board of the church and the church gave us the basement. Every six months or so ELLA gave money to the church.

A Steering Committee was formed and in August 2001, eight members (Marilyn Chinnery, Beverly Brown, Carol Goretzky, Frances Klingle, Valerie Cload, Pat Shields, Marg Stephens and Mildred Jowsey) met to plan a new non-profit association for senior learning.

Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association was registered under the Societies Act of the Province of Alberta with 65 paid members.

Patricia Shields: I volunteered to register ELLA as a nonprofit group.

Consultations with the University of Alberta Faculty of Extension staff were held to negotiate a strategic alliance. The University of Alberta agreed to notify previous registrants of the formation of the new organization and invited them to an open meeting on Sept. 17, 2001. One hundred interested members attended this open meeting chaired by Carol Goretzky.

Speaking on behalf of the Faculty of Extension, Dennis Foth explained the position of the University. As a result of funding cutbacks, beginning as early as 1992, all continuing education courses were expected to cover costs, with a priority on young people. Course registration fees jumped from $25 to $191 per course, and so enrollment dropped. The shortfalls continued through to 1999, even with people like Marilyn and Dave Chinnery offering their volunteer assistance to the Faculty.

Dennis spoke of attending a conference in 2001 on programs for older adults, which revealed other universities faced the same financial challenges. The strongest programs for older adults were ones in which members had taken charge. He suggested an alliance whereby the University could provide the classrooms if ELLA could provide the courses.

Marilyn Chinnery then spoke on the status of the summer work forming the society. Membership fees of $20 were to be used for promotion and office supplies, and a plea was made for volunteers to serve on committees.

After listening to both speakers, those in attendance overwhelmingly approved the formation of ELLA and elected a Board of Directors.

The Honorable Lois Hole was named patron of ELLA and spoke positively of this group, helping to make it known throughout her circle of influence.

Beverley Brown: One of the highlights of those early months was the CELEBRATION OF ELLA SPRING SESSION, held at the Telus Centre on May 13, 2002 at which Her Honour, The Lieutenant Governor, The Honourable Lois E. Hole was the speaker. The board members were lined up to greet Her Honour as she arrived and each was given the warm hug that was so typical of Lois Hole. Her talk of course was most encouraging of ELLA. She was presented with an honorary membership and an ELLA sweatshirt. A reception followed in the foyer of the Telus Centre.

In 2002, ELLA applied for and received charitable status from the Canada Revenue Agency, Charitable Division.

By 2002, the Program included: art (painting, drawing, and history), physical activity, linguistics, classics, writing, history, music, current affairs, ethics, anthropology, literature, and aging concerns.

Beverley Brown: By the December board meeting, the membership had increased to 183 and by the April 18, 2002 board meeting it was decided to increase the number of board members to 17. A tremendous amount of hard work was put into the process.

In 2003, sweatshirts were designed by Dr. Si Siwak to be sold for $28 each.  For several years committee members brought them to events until they finally all sold. Today, we can still see our founding members proudly wearing the bright blue, playful sweatshirts at Spring Session.

Inge Vermeulen: …we see the ones who wear the blue shirt because it is a very small group – these were the ones who were there…and are still there

ELLA: Changes Through the Years

Board of Directors:

Bylaws and Policies

On August 24, 2001, the Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association was registered under the Societies Act of Alberta.  By February of 2003, the Board had drafted and approved the original Bylaws, and then filed them with the Corporate Registry in May 2003.

Patricia Shields: Herb Buckwald wrote the first set of bylaws.

By November 2004, the Board had drafted and approved the Policies and Procedures.

All of these items underwent several revisions as the Boards gained experience and knowledge and in 2008 Don Chadsey drafted a comprehensive version of the governance documents.  These included formalized Committee Purposes and Functions statements. The updated and approved Bylaws were filed with the Alberta Corporate Registry in November that year.

Updates were made again in 2011 and approved and sent to the Alberta Corporate Registry in 2012, and all along the Canada Revenue Agency was kept apprised of our changes.

ELLA’s Privacy Policy was written in 2013 to follow the University of Alberta’s standards.

In 2014, the Board outlined ELLA’s Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct in an Organization Standards document.

Also in 2014, the Board reviewed the new anti-spam legislation and determined that because of our charitable status ELLA was not affected.

Currently, the Bylaws and Policies committee is tasked with leading the Board to update Committee Purposes and Functions Statements and Handbooks.

Board Development

As we read in the history of ELLA, by December of 2001, the Board of Directors had increased to 17 members due to the amount of work involved in putting on Spring Session.  The Bylaws allow for up to 20.  In its history the Board has never had 20 directors, but consistently hovers around the 14-16 mark.

The key component of ELLA’s existence is its commitment to lifelong learning. The volunteers who offer their time and skills to serve on the Board have availed themselves of multiple opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge.

Ray Lieberman:  I remember volunteering to be a Board member and being told that as the only male I would have to take the Vice President’s position. During the first years, Marilyn Chinnery the President and I split up the responsibilities of attending all of the committee meetings. I ended up in the early years taking on the Chair of Publicity Committee….Talk about the blind leading the blind.

The Community & Voluntary Services Department, under the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, conducts annual conferences for non-profit Boards and ELLA board members have participated to enhance their understanding of fiduciary responsibility, strategic planning, and generative governance. Consultants also led workshops for the ELLA Board with specific topics, including team building, recruitment of volunteers, job training, marketing, fundraising, strategic planning, and developing a mission statement.

In 2007, Dave Ferraro led a series of computer courses for the Board members.

By 2011, the Board began to in-service their own workshop and learning opportunities. Board members addressed and planned for topics like Strategic Planning, Setting Priorities, Handbook Workshop, Financial Strategic Planning, Committee Workload analysis, Uploading Files to the virtual office. These professional development workshops yielded a rich source of data specific to ELLA issues – governance, leadership, and practical application. It is a testament to the original founders that they created a culture for ELLA to evolve and change in response to new situations and challenges.

Board Decisions

Every year, new issues emerged for the Board, and decisions were made in accordance with information available at the time.

Patricia Shields: We couldn’t believe it when we had volunteers coming out of the ying yang. We did everything very simply, by ourselves. Board meetings in the early days were really fun. The idea was to appeal so that anybody could come.

Inge Vermeulen: Fifteen years makes such a difference. Incredible. The emphasis is on different things now. There’s more science, more social… A lot of people will find this [2016 Course Guide] program very interesting. The old [program] was easy entertainment and education – like dessert.

Right after one spring session ends, planning for the next begins.  The Board decides how many courses will be held and passes that to the Program Committee.  The Program Committee reviews the evaluations from last Spring Session, takes the suggestions for courses and starts building a program.  It takes months in the summer and early fall to determine the courses and find the instructors.    Then the Board must determine the communication and marketing strategies for the year, as well as the office organization.  Program Implementation works with the Faculty to find classrooms.  Social decides what social events will happen.  The auditors review the old year and the budget is prepared for the new year. Volunteers are recruited to ensure the necessary work is done.

Over the years how the work was done has changed.

Inge Vermeulen: You did everything that came your way. For example, membership, a lot of phoning. Word of mouth was very important. You talked to people. We had neighbourhoods in common. Those were the liveliest meetings I ever attended because we were all enthusiastic. We had a certain amount of freedom for [sic] our private life – no babies. For me, I could breathe. I discovered I had a brain that needed nourishment. You did what had to be done. For instance, trying to find lecturers you don’t [sic] have a list. Sometimes in the middle of the night it came to you.

By 2006, the Board approved the decision to circulate the newsletter by email to those members who were connected online, in part because it was cheaper.     We initially rejected accepting credit cards for payment because of the cost, but we implemented it later because of membership demand.  Board reports used to be delivered orally, but are now packaged together and distributed by email prior to the board meeting.  Soon, Board members will go online and pull this information themselves.   Members now buy their memberships and register for classes online.

The Bring a Buddy promotion was utilized for a few years, but had to be rescinded as our numbers grew.  Registration fees, instructor fees, noon-hour session honoraria, and advertising budgets have all changed and increased. In 2010 we introduced a $25 fee for art classes and in 2011 we revoked it.   Each year, a new community of volunteers steps forward, bringing their new ideas and energy to the ELLA legacy.

Mildred Jowsey:  Last year I came to ELLA and was staggered at the enrolment number and the wonderful number of classes offered. You have wonderful people to attend to each class and assist the prof. This is a good improvement since ‘the good old days’ and many more such as desk for information and tickets.

Encore Events

In 2012, when a focus group gathered for a visioning session, the notion of ELLA sponsoring other-than-Spring-Session learning opportunities came up. It was a bit controversial, because many know the tremendous workload on the volunteers to create and deliver the Spring Session. This focus group was solid in the affirmation that the Spring Session is the main purpose for ELLA – it is what we are known for, it is our pride and achievement.

However, we know through surveys, conversations and evaluations that members are interested in attending other learning opportunities under ELLA’s umbrella. If the Spring Session was the big splash, then other learning opportunities would be like ripples. In 2014-2015, the Board consented to hold a pilot project, to see if there was interest from the members. In 2015-2016, two events were held.

As this was so new (at least to this Board) we didn’t officially name these outside-spring session events until the fall of 2015, when the name Encore was chosen.  So, after the main event, there may be other productions – an encore.

But there, hidden in the archived Board minutes, a revelation! ELLA has been offering Encore events for years. In 2003, ELLA offered a series of lectures called Edmonton Now and Then and a one-on-one writing course.  In 2004, a committee was struck to research future delivery models for learning opportunities.  In 2007, an attempt to hold a 2-week sculpting class was cancelled because there were not enough registrants, but a fall Art Class was successfully completed. A lecture series entitled Future Tuesdays was organized to be held in the Heritage Room organized by Ken Miller. Discussions about whether ELLA should become involved in travel planning was entertained but rejected.

Considering that this has been part of ELLA from the very beginning, it seems that it is fortuitous that we are now looking at ways to streamline a workflow and structure that we can reasonably sustain Encore events without affecting the Spring Session.

Goals and Plans

The founding members had very specific and concrete goals – to organize courses for the first Spring Session, to maintain the quality of the course material and instruction, to continue the University of Alberta affiliation, and to provide a unique and stimulating learning experience. Of course, another goal was to find members for ELLA.

Mildred Jowsey: …was quite daunting at first. A day did come when we were told the U would not continue with the classes because the salary paid to the organizer was too much to say nothing of the expenses for the brochures, advertising etc., along with finding the Profs and the salary for them. University of Alberta had a firm belief in lifelong learning. The spokesperson…said we could have another meeting in a week. We were all agog to hear what the verdict would be, and were overjoyed to be told we could go ahead, but would be on our own. Pat Shields got the legal papers to prove we were an entity… we went to town getting people to go to Malls and hand out information and talk up the benefits for seniors. We had some capable people to go to radio…to promote the program. There were some people who looked for speakers and Profs.

These are still the key functions of the Board, but as we take a journey through ELLA’s history, we can see the winding road that Boards have faced through the years.

Valerie Cload:  A retired associate of the Journal arranged for me to be interviewed by reporters from newspapers, magazines, and the CBC. I spoke to any group that would listen to me. We persuaded West Ed to give us a table once a month…from which we sold membership….then we opened a table at Southgate too.….the Financial group were assertively seeking funds…with success. We had a misspell in one of our Mall signs. I said “Don’t change it. People love to correct us and it gave us the chance to talk about ELLA.

In 2004, the Board set as priorities to research publicity opportunities, to get the ads out earlier; to find consistent volunteer help for the office; to control expenditures; to consolidate previous work and to extend partnerships. The caution then was to be wary of expanding too fast.

By 2006, ELLA’s growth was self-limiting because of classroom availability and capacity.

In 2010, the Board undertook a major goals and activity design that had five key goals: maintain a good working relationship with the Faculty of Extension; expand the nomination committee to include recruitment of volunteers and Board members; improve succession planning to maintain ELLA sustainability; utilize good operational procedures and principles (agenda, circulation of Board reports, insure technical training where needed, develop grant request, equitably distribute tasks among Board members, develop archival guidelines); develop confidentiality policy guidelines.

In the spring of 2012, a Strategic Planning workshop was held to review strategic and operational priorities. The treasurer was tasked to look at numbers to sustain a long-term strategic plan with future plans for organizational development.

Inge Vermeulen: It was very nice when it was very small. To please 600 is far more difficult than to discuss among a dozen. It used to be very nice to be five people with one teacher. There was dialogue with such a few. You did what had to be done. Work was “not divided up strictly by jobs. The size [now] is something we should admire.

In 2013, ELLA leaders were tackling the challenge of growth and change by bringing in Mark Cabaj to facilitate a Visioning Session to investigate options. This led to the formation of a Futures Working Group that completed a comprehensive research and analysis in a 60-page report.

Up until this point, the Board had been fully an operational Board – all members worked to keep Spring Session and ELLA business successful. The Futures Report revealed that there was a change needed, that the Board members required more governance leadership. To that end, several workshops were held to broaden the structure and roles within the Board. Committee workload, purposes, functions, communication between committees remained a key part of the strategic plans, but now an emergent governance piece looking toward growth, and adapting to change was incorporated. The bottom line for any vision for the future is the question – is it sustainable?

An Advisory Committee was formed to support the Board, by working through questions, suggesting alternatives, completing background research, and putting structures in place that enable the Board to function more smoothly (e.g. decision making model, agenda submission guides.) The past two years have been spent stabilizing the infrastructure for ELLA, finding the pieces that worked well from before, but considering alternatives to support the growth we know will happen.

For the first time in ELLA history, the Board made the decision to hire a part-time Executive Assistant for 6 months to help the Board complete the work needed this year.

In concert with that, the Board is committed to developing a 5-year strategic and financial plan. This plan will recognize the need to keep Spring Session strong and viable, and provide a road map for the growth that ELLA members have asked for.


ELLA applied for several grants in the formation years. An application to ECALA for Emerging Needs and Innovative Approaches Fund in 2003 gave us approval for $5,000. In 2005 $2,365 was approved from Edmonton Community Operating Grant.

Patricia Shields: I did get grants at least for three years, for $1200… they were government grants.  They refused us after about four years.

Not all grant applications were successful, as requirements changed. But over the years, different Boards would resurrect the idea of grant applications. For example, in 2009, the treasurer purchased a book entitled Funding Sources for Edmonton’s Non-Profit Sector 2008-2009. Board members have attended training sessions on how to write grant proposals.

The Board is taking a fresh look at grants as part of its five-year strategic and financial planning.


This year, the Board of Directors has approved a decision to apply for a casino license. Little did we realize, until digging in the historical files, that the original founders had the same idea. In 2002 and 2004 applications were completed, but then tabled. Clarification on the age restriction (50 and older) of ELLA, our charitable status, and the affiliation with the University of Alberta complicated the process.

In 2016, three Board members accessed or attended the information session in 2016 sponsored by the Alberta Gaming & Liquor Commission on charitable gaming policies. New board member Ron Ilko is charged with completing our application, again in concert with our five-year strategic plan.


Partnership with the University of Alberta Faculty of Extension:

Faculty of Extension Contracts

In 2001, the Faculty offered its last sponsored Spring Session for Older Adults. With the initiative sparked by the ELLA founders, the Faculty created a Letter of Understanding. The Faculty Council moved to go forward with an affiliation agreement with ELLA and created a Principles of Understanding.

Dennis Foth: My fondest memory is of the meeting held in the basement of St Timothy’s Anglican Church at which about one hundred people voted unanimously, or nearly so, to create ELLA and to work with the University to create a true partnership to offer the program.…many academics from other Faculties were both pleased that a way was found to continue with programs for seniors and …were prepared to support a ‘new model’ when we brought it forward to the various committees of the university that had to approve the partnership.…this was also a new venture for the university.

In 2003, this letter of intent was reconfirmed and extended to 2006. In 2004, Joyce Buchwald was recommended to sit on the University of Alberta Senate representing ELLA.ELLA members were allowed to audit Humanities courses under the Liberal Arts umbrella for a minimal charge of $50 in 2005. The University Of Alberta Board Of Governors rescinded that policy, but in 2007 ELLA members received discounted registration fees in Music, Art, and Humanities courses offered through the Faculty.

In 2005, the University of Alberta initiated a registrant fee of $25 to help cover the staff costs for their services of registration, support, and administration. Other changes meant that ELLA was charged for advertising in the Spring Calendar.

Dennis Foth, the liaison for Older Adults and Learning, nominated ELLA for the Faculty award for lifelong learning.

In 2007, plans began to conduct a survey on lifelong learning as a collaborative endeavor with Liberal Arts and ELLA.

University of Alberta Partnership contracts were renewed in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. At each contract negotiation, changes needed to be addressed and compromises need to be found that were agreeable to both parties.

The Faculty has steadfastly honoured the incredible volunteer efforts from ELLA for their outstanding program selection and infrastructure support system.

As in any partnership, there needs to be advantages to both sides, and for ELLA, to be partnered with the University of Alberta has brought prestige to our association that makes us unique among older adults groups. They continue to supply us with our classrooms, they give us advice, they provide logistical, technical and financial services support; they vet our instructors and manage the payroll.  We in turn add a richness to the University community with our striving and thirst for lifelong learning. Through the years, we have continued our dialogue, understanding that we are independent but partnered.

Dennis Foth: I liked the challenge of working with others to create a university-community partnership for an academic program. …at that point in time…university-community partnerships had not become ‘flavor of the month’. I liked working with the core group of people from the long-standing Advisory Committee for the Spring Program for Seniors …on figuring out how we could create a new entity to offer the program for the long term …not subject to the ebbs and flows of the University’s financial situation. I’ve always admired…the dictum of the University of Alberta’s founding president, Henry Marshall Tory that the purpose of the University was to ‘uplift the whole people’.

Endowment Fund

Many years ago, the Government of Alberta issued a grant to the Faculty of Extension to be used for older learners – the start of an Endowment Fund. When the Faculty could no longer offer courses or programs for older adults, and ELLA began its course offerings, we became eligible to apply for some of this money. This Endowment fund has occupied much Board time (15 Board meetings) over the years, as procedures and limitations were not clear. Different individuals worked to investigate and provide clarification.

The original grant earns interest, and ELLA can apply to use the interest that year. If the interest is not used, it is added back to the fund. ELLA can apply for funds for the following: scholarships (our bursary program), professional development (Board Development PD), capital expenditures (printer, laptop), special projects in education, and member development. The Faculty has formed a review committee to examine each application before granting approval.

The creation of this history summary, reviewing all the Board minutes, has revealed that this source should be accessed every year – either we use it, or we lose it.

Office Support

Since the beginning, the Faculty of Extension has found places for us to have a public office – a place where people can connect with ELLA volunteers. The first ELLA office opened in February 2002, with original members often paying for their own supplies. The Faculty provided us with phone lines and internet service as well as technical support.

Dennis Foth: In the early days, ELLA’s office was really in two locations: Marg Stephen’s dining room, with many meetings held in her living room (her dog was a faithful attender), and a temporary office (available one or two days each week) and open area workspace on the fourth floor of the University Extension Centre…now called University Terrace. The temporary office was used mostly for responding to telephone calls about the program…and for registration, which was done in conjunction with the Faculty’s Registration Office. The open area workspace was used primarily for mail-outs of the brochures.

Over the years, the office has moved, following the Faculty as it moved from the main campus to Enterprise Square. The original mailbox at Lynnwood was finally discontinued in 2006 and ELLA began to use the office address for mail and as a return address.

The volunteers who staff the office love talking to the people who call in with questions, although the recent changes to online registration and membership have really changed the dynamics. All work used to be processed by hand –paper membership forms, membership cards, paper registrations. The workload was incredible, but these volunteers were masterful at creating systems to keep track of it all.

Valerie Cload: Our nearest coffee shop was our office originally. For the first two years we used Pat’s son’s family copier. We burned out two copiers! The other was in the Shields’ company office. Replacement cost about $1400.All the machines developed ELLA indigestion.

Thao Bui introduced Microsoft Professional Edition in 2006, and began to set up unique macros for ELLA’s needs. Volunteers were trained on using this software and initial database.

There are other changes that happened through the ELLA office. We no longer issue Membership cards. We’ve added Emergency Contact information on the back of the nametags for Spring Session. Database and technical requirements increased in complexity. Credit cards began to be used. Each year, office volunteers increased their skill levels as challenges and new learning requirements presented themselves.


In 2014, the Faculty of Extension approved a policy that all arms-length partners, including ELLA, would now use Eventbrite for their program registrations. This created a huge learning curve for our office volunteers and two of them – Germaine Chau and John Chandler, spent countless hours to bridge this transition for our members.

Those who have internet access can easily register on their own, but for our members without internet access, the office created a system whereby ELLA volunteers entered their registrations. Because of the capacity of the system to handle simultaneous registrations from around the world, the office recruited many volunteers to enter the paper registrations in the order of first come, first entered.  The Faculty assisted us with this by providing additional space, phone lines and computers.  We are grateful for the organization it takes to do this so that none of our members are disadvantaged.

Ray Lieberman: Fifteen year old ELLA is bigger in members, registrants, courses, and volunteers than at birth. Most notable…is the workload of the volunteer leadership, both in hours and skills. I believe word of mouth and the use of e-mail have been the tools that have contributed the most to the growth of ELLA.

Art Gallery

In 2004, the University of Alberta Extension Gallery invited ELLA to display their artwork from the courses for two weeks following Spring Session. Volunteers led participants to display their art in this public forum. In 2013, the ELLA Board decided to relocate the display to the Education building so that more registrants could see the art. We now have the art show during one noon hour where every art student can display his or her work, and all registrants have the opportunity to view it. The benefit of this is that the art can be taken home after the show without the difficulty of getting it to and from the Extension Gallery.


ELLA’s intention was always to keep an archive of ELLA’s history and information.  Sometimes luck and happenstance have intervened.  From the first years, Heather Lyons and Myrna Grimm both collected archive material and formatted it according to the University archivist requirements.  The University of Alberta agreed to accept these documents into their archives, but these original documents have proved impossible to retrieve.

ELLA was encouraged to maintain their own files and documents Several ELLA members began to research using Google docs for archiving and records management, but found it had limitations.

Former President, John Elliot initiated a documents and records committee protocol for the Board, and facilitated a partnership with an instructor and a group of students from MacEwan Records Management program. They researched our documents and recommended a naming and filing convention, at which time, the ELLA Board began the process of uploading files to the Virtual Office at my-ella.com

Social Events

The dynamics of social events has changed dramatically as ELLA has grown. What started out as a core strong group of connected people driven by a common goal has changed over the years due to growth, Board changes, and different underlying forces.

Valerie Cload: We like learning, the atmosphere, an opportunity to go to university. It gave a balloon to our lives.

In the beginning ELLA members held a Gala Event at the Faculty Club with dinner and entertainment from the music faculty. They held a Spring Session dinner at the Petroleum Club in 2004. The Wind-Up event was a dinner at the Faculty Club in 2006, but back to the Petroleum Club for a banquet in 2008. The numbers were smaller, so the events could be grander.

The Wind-Up event changed from a dinner event to a cocktail venue with appetizers and a cash bar after this, but sometimes in the years following, the food that was ordered did not hold out for the last arrivals. One can understand this dilemma when one realizes that historically there used to be dinner/gala events.

The Welcome Event was informal in the beginning years, but by 2008, the Social committee organized a Meet and Greet event in the cafeteria foyer, with ELLA purchasing coffee and food. In 2009, the Meet and Greet was adjusted to have coffee, tea and juice and to use the funds allocated for food the previous year to subsidize the lunch and wind-up events. Gradually, the policy changed to offer registrants a free coffee/tea/juice at the Education cafeteria.

The first Annual General Meetings offered a lunch to participants that was catered by Upper Crust for a charge of $10 to any member who wished to purchase it. After a few years, policy changed and the luncheon was held on a different day from the AGM.

This luncheon began to be associated with honouring the many ELLA volunteers, and the first acknowledgement of volunteers had a draw for 50 volunteers to receive a free lunch ticket. The following year, the Board approved paying the lunch for all volunteers, while other members could purchase a lunch ticket. This year, only the volunteers will be invited to the luncheon, so that full recognition and appreciation for their dedication can be made.

In 2008, the social committee organized a wine and cheese reception, but there were many challenges faced in holding this event in the Education building.

In 2011, ELLA celebrated its 10th anniversary with a Welcome event, which included a presentation, honoring long time members, and a performance of the Geriactors.

The Board of Directors has not taken much time over the years to socialize together, or if they did it was not included in the Board minutes. Chips Reid held a pot luck dinner for the Board members in 2011, and for the last two years, the Board has gathered for pot luck December luncheons. The ELLA organization, though, has for the past few years honored the Board with an appreciation luncheon at the end of their term.

Reflecting back to the original ELLA, and the close connection they had with each other, there is something to be learned here. That social aspect builds strength and connection, and hopefully it will remain a focus for the upcoming years.

Technology and Identity


In the early years, the Faculty of Extension provided ELLA with a website space within the faculty website. Their staff designed the site to showcase the brochure and spring calendar. By 2003, ELLA began to request more current news items be featured under a News and Archives section. Michael Lewcio, from the Faculty would update the site as requested by the secretary, Noma Morrissey, or other designate. The site was promotional in nature.

By 2010, several factors influenced a change in viewing the potential of the website, and much background work was done by John Chandler, one of ELLA’s key technology volunteers. John kept our site current and updated with ELLA news and information about the work of the Board, including posting the Strategic Plan. Barbara Leung assumed the role of webmaster by 2013 and items were posted quickly and efficiently.

Things became more complicated when the University of Alberta moved ELLA to the Eventbrite online registration. John Chandler and Germaine Chau spent much time streamlining this shift for ELLA. Along with the Eventbrite, John spent a great deal of time working on the concept of purchasing membership online. He created the my-ella.com site and online membership had its launch in September 2014, with the help of Jim Macdonald.

Right now, the Faculty of Extension website is our public face where members access news, course guides and administrative information about ELLA.  The new my-ella.com site houses the membership renewal system and is used by the Board to centrally store ELLA’s operational documents.  In the future, it is intended to become the main website for ELLA, thanks to the work of Fred Sawka.  A Web Focus group met to flesh out the components and look for this website, and its design is presently being processed.

Ideas that were brought forward over the years about adding links that could be of interest and benefit to our members, updates to be posted frequently, potential for member engagement, celebration of ELLA members successes (art, writing, etc.) can be addressed with this new website.


As part of gathering our documents in one central location, we have realized that we have a bit of an identity issue.

Since the beginning, ELLA’s brand has been tied to the University of Alberta.  Our logos have changed over the years, as has the University’s, which makes it difficult for us to be consistent.

For example, in 2003, the University of Alberta designed a logo for ELLA so that it could be adjusted graphically to suit publicity requirements.

The sweatshirt design of 2003 created a playful and colourful design for the founding group, which has been used in a variety of capacities over the years, including on the cover of the course guide.

There have been black and white and coloured logos which have changed throughout the years.

In 2010, a new banner was approved, but resolution issues surfaced.

By 2011, Lorraine Jeffrey designed a cover for our Spring Session calendar which has been regenerated each year for updating.  In addition, she adapted the logo for use on postcards and thank you cards.

The ELLA 15th Anniversary committee created a special logo to brand their events.

The logo on the Faculty of Extension website is different than the logo used on the my-ella site, which is different than the logo used on the forms within the course guide, which is different than the logo used on the course guide.

One of the goals for the upcoming year is to create a brand logo for ELLA that can be used consistently for all of our documents and media.

Closing thoughts

Our membership has brought forward people who are familiar with the potential of technology and the vision of what is possible. This promises an exciting future.

Patricia Shields: Learning about things that you never had opportunity or time to research. The essence is it’s an opportunity for people to do something that they’ve always wanted to do – a huge window. The joy of being with like-minded people. Instructors used to say they love to teach ELLA, they get as much from ELLA as they give.

Valerie Cload:  We all made very good friends because of ELLA’s inception. It is very much a positive influence in our lives. We are happy she survived and impressed by her present status. It’s much more chic, more flashy. It has evolved into lots of positive things.

Patricia Shields: I am always astonished at the success of ELLA and proud of the very professional and sophisticated organization that it has become – thanks to the many incredible and able individuals who have joined our ranks over the past few. Never in our lives did we envision this 15 years ago. It’s extremely well organized. It is much better organized, much larger. From about 135 to 600….my goodness.

Dennis Foth: …processes are much more sophisticated, although at the cost of significantly more volunteer hours. ELLA has become a brand. The challenge facing ELLA is how to deal with its success.

As we move into the future, please join the Board of Directors of ELLA in celebrating the 15th anniversary of the creation of ELLA.

Updated August 14, 2016