Toni Ellis – Citizen-of-the-Year

When Toni Ellis came to her door on March 28 and saw Centre Wellington Mayor Jo­anne Ross-Zuj, she said she thought the mayor was cam­paigning.
Ellis was, in the tradi­tion of the Centre Wellington Cham­ber of Commerce, “am­bush­ed.” She was the surprised recipient of the Citizen-of-the-Year honours.
“I can’t believe it,” Ellis said as she welcomed a dele­gation of officials and media into her home on Colborne Street. “There are so many other deserving people. When I think of all the people who were Citizen-of-the-Year be­fore – they are heroic.”
Many nomi­nators felt Ellis is deserv­ing. She is a charter member of the Elora Centre for Envi­ronmental Excellence from the 1990s. It is one of the few organizations of its type of a Green Com­munities strate­gies that still sur­vives.
She was a force behind the Elora Centre for the Arts, and the driving force behind Neigh­bourWoods, an organization preserving and cele­brating trees, as well as planting them.
Ellis was involved in the Elora Pre-school, Canada World Youth, and been with the Elora Junior School and Elora Public School, plus the Elora-Fergus Unita­rian Church.
Ross-Zuj presented her with a bouquet of flowers and noted Ellis has spent numerous hours working for the community. She added Ellis is now teaching in schools, and is busy organizing tree plants for April. Ross-Zuj said she teaches “life skills we want our kids to have.”
The mayor said Cen­tre Wellington has 13% tree cover, and that should be closer to 40%, but people like Ellis “will help us get close to the target.”
Nearly a dozen people nominated and sent supporting letters to the cham­ber for Ellis.
One was Tommi Roden.
She said of Ellis, “As far as I’m concerned, she has never stop­ped doing for the com­mu­n­ity.”
Roden was on the board of the ECEE with Ellis when it first formed, and in­volved in the Elora Centre for the Arts, and said Ellis was a big part of their success.
“She is going to make a great Citizen-of-the-Year,” said Ro­d­en, a former Nichol councillor.
Elora resident Gwen Swick said she has known Ellis “from the time our kids were in pre-school. I admire her so much. “She is such a doer … because of her, I’m a tree steward.”
Swick said it is difficult to capture exactly what it is that Ellis does, but she is infectious.
“She sets these goals. After she sets these goals, they just seem to happen – and it’s not effortless.”
Swick added, “You get caught up in those activities – and you’re doing good – and you get to meet people.”
Swick supported Ellis be­cause “She made such a difference. A lot of things have stemmed from Toni.”
Nancy Fischer said of Ellis “I’ve known and admired Toni for 20 years; we met as young par­ents whose children attend­ed the same pre-school.”
Fischer cited Ellis’s work as the found member and co-chair­man of the Elora Junior School council.
She also lauded Ellis for her work with the Elora Centre for Environmental Excellence, and its branch from that group, NeighbourWoods, which “advo­cates for the health of our com­mun­ity’s trees through ener­getic educational outreach and a small army of volunteer tree stewards.”
Fischer noted the Neigh­­bourWoods model is now being copied in other communities.
Fischer said that Ellis’ suc­cess is her “ability to connect people with projects. She added that, “Over the years she has lived in Centre Wellington, she has been particularly effective in attracting and retaining vol­unteers – as she says, she likes to build bandwagons.”
Ellis and other community volunteers will be honoured on April 24 at the annual Centre Wellington Awards of Excellence.
Anyone wanting tickets can contact the chamber at 843-5140.