Sister Kathryn K. and Elder Stanley G. Ellis have arrived in the Africa Southeast Area, where he will serve as First Counselor in the Area Presidency. They were called in April to report August 1, 2014 after President Dale G. Renlund and his wife Ruth completed their service in late May. The good-natured couple love the missionary rule to 'stay with your companion.” They clearly enjoy being together. Since their wedding in 1969, they have welcomed nine children and 29 grandchildren (with one on the way). They have enjoyed a life of travel, family growth, and Church service.
Stan, as he is known to his friends, was shaped by four important life experiences: first of all, he is proud to identify himself as “a farm boy.” Raised on a farm near Burley, Idaho, he learned to work hard and work smart. He also learned the importance of timing, explaining, “If you don’t plant at the right time, an early frost can destroy the harvest.” This farm boy learned to do what was needed, regardless of what was enjoyable, and most of all, he learned to be direct. He often asks his Church audiences, “Do you want me to speak directly or indirectly? With 'sugar' or without it?' So far, the Saints have chosen “Without!” every time.
His second life-changing experience was the combination of attending Harvard University and serving a mission. Many of his fellow freshmen were National Merit finalists who had attended exclusive prep schools. Compared to them, he felt inadequate, and he struggled his first semester, earning the worst grades of his life. Happily, though, he received strength and inspiration from an excellent Institute of Religion teacher: Boyd K. Packer. President David O. McKay had foreseen the need for a strong spiritual presence on the Harvard campus and had extended the additional calling to New England States Mission President Packer.
Elder Ellis interrupted his education to serve in the Brazilian Mission, where he gained substantial confidence and faith. Upon returning to Harvard, he improved his grades and graduated with a degree in government. Subsequently, he enjoyed being a member of Brigham Young University’s first-ever class of the J. Reuben Clark Law School.
His third life experience was working his way through both college and law school selling books door-to-door. He explains, “My parents were farmers with seven children; they simply could not pay for our post-high school educations. I knew I was on my own, so I worked hard to get scholarships and jobs. Selling books 84 hours a week and recruiting and managing other salespeople gave me experience and skill that I relied on subsequently when I entered the world of business.”
He also relied on his energetic wife. Kathryn was born into a world full of Kathleens, Katherines, Kathryns, and Katharinas, all using the nickname “Kathy.” Since her maiden name was Kloepfer, she opted instead for “KK,” which suits her perfectly; she is one of a kind.
Though her family was kind and loving, they had drifted into Church inactivity over the years. When her grandparents from Idaho, stalwart Church members, visited in California, they were appalled to find their 12-year-old granddaughter had never been baptized. Before they left town, her grandparents saw the ordinance performed, but then KK was on her own. She walked to Church alone, attended meetings all by herself, and participated in Church functions without her family. She smiles and says, “I knew the Church was true. I knew what I was doing was right and what the Savior wanted me to do. I loved the other members, and their example made it easier to stay true to the gospel.”
During her senior year of high school, she applied only to BYU, though her parents preferred that she attend college in California as her older brothers had done. She had earned a scholarship, and her parents finally relented and allowed her to go on the promise that she would graduate before marriage, a promise that she almost kept. The Ellises were married on June 7 after her junior year; KK lacked only six credit hours to graduate. These she completed by correspondence, graduating with her class the next year with a major in Humanities.
The newlywed couple charted an amazing odyssey noting, “We moved 22 times in 10 years.” The first of their nine children was born while they were still involved in university and law-school studies. KK explains cheerfully, 'We and our first four children each have our own birth state: California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Utah, New Mexico, and Tennessee.”
The last five were born in Texas, a state they never expected to call home. They first drove through the Lone Star State in their non-air-conditioned car during a very hot August. They rolled down their car windows, panting, and asked each other, “Who would ever live here?” However, they moved to Houston in 1979 and loved it. They still maintain their family home there.
Another place they came to love over the years is the country of Brazil. As a teenager, Stanley Ellis first went to Brazil as an American Field Service (AFS) exchange student for two months. Then at 19 he returned to serve as a full-time missionary in the Brazilian Mission (12/1966-12/1968). Later in his life (1999-2002), he served as president of the Brazil Sao Paulo North Mission. Sister Ellis says, “We came to love the 500+ missionaries we served with. They were like our own children.”
All of their children have chosen to serve missions themselves-- all nine of them. “Yes! Even the girls!” Elder Ellis says, adding, “I am biased when it comes to missionary service for young women. I believe in it!” Their youngest daughter, Emily, is currently serving in the South Korea Seoul Mission.
Elder Ellis has also served as an Area Seventy, stake president, counselor in a stake presidency, high councilor, counselor in a bishopric, elder’s quorum president, and ward and stake Young Men president.
Sister Ellis, already wearing an African-bead necklace, says, “We are thrilled to be here now. We can’t wait to learn more about the people of the Africa Southeast Area and help the Lord with the work of the Church.” She adds, “It is the direct fulfillment of my patriarchal blessing given long ago, that I would ‘witness the growth of the Church.’ It is a privilege to serve here.'
Elder and Sister Ellis are at the right place at the right time to be such witnesses and contributors to its growth. The Africa Southeast Area is blessed to have them.