Ellis proof that actions always speak louder than words

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bill Ellis has barely spoken a word in four months, but his "voice" still echoes across the city he loves so much.

A driving force behind the Ironton Lions' Haunted Tunnel, Patriot's Path at Woodland Cemetery and the Memorial Day Parade, the 71-year-old volunteer was diagnosed earlier this year with tonsil cancer.

Bill continues to battle the disease that has taken his voice but done little to affect his heart or reduce his passion for his adopted home

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A retired contractor and small business owner, Bill and his wife, Dana, lived in Westerville for years but the Ohio River and a passion for boating drew them to southern Ohio. The people, the region and the city that welcomed them kept them here.

"We got to Ironton and it was home," Dana said. "It just was. I don't know why."

The couple has been involved in many projects since they moved to the city in 1999. From the community events to work at First Presbyterian Church to belting out tunes with the Singing Colonels and other groups, Bill and Dana quickly immersed themselves in the community.

"To come here and not know a soul and become as involved in the community as he is, is so uplifting," said friend and fellow Lion Lou Pyles, calling Bill irreplaceable. "Anything he volunteers with he puts 110 percent into it. Plus, he tries to make it joyful and fun."

For Bill, one of the hardest parts of fighting the disease - which has included extensive surgery, a tracheotomy and radiation therapy - has been not being able to be involved in these projects that he loves so much.

"What I am so proud of is, he has never once said, 'Oh, poor me,'" Dana said.

Bill was to serve as parade commander this year but stepped down because his health declined. To ensure the honor was not forgotten, fellow parade volunteers nominated him to serve as commander next year, something he is certain to embrace.

"When Lou told him he would be parade commander, his little eyes just lit up," Dana said. "He grinned as much as he could."

Not allowing Bill's struggles to rule their lives, the couple has learned new ways to communicate that include sign language, body language, signals and notes. But, it is their close bond that has made it easier.

"After 34 years of marriage, he can give me a look that tells me exactly what he is thinking," Dana said with a laugh.

For the Ellis family, optimism and prayer help get them through and still find joy in their lives.

"We are in this together," Dana said. "We are taking it day-by-day and taking what comes."

And though Bill can't speak right now, Dana remains confident that his singing voice lies inside him, waiting to be rediscovered.

"When we came here in 1999, Kathy Price had come up with a song about Ironton for the sesquicentennial," Dana recalled. "Every time we go out of town and come home, we start singing that song."

Keep singing on the inside Bill. Ironton can still hear you.

Michael Caldwell is the managing editor at The Ironton Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.