When John and Liz Ellis graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in the spring of 1981, giving back was not something easily accomplished by the young couple.
John had received a BS with a major in physics and a minor in math, while Liz had completed a BSE in social studies with a concentration in history and a minor in health education. They were headed to Knoxville so that John could continue his studies at the University of Tennessee.
But, they began giving and never stopped. The couple has the honor of being among the longest continuous givers in UCA’s records, which indicates they began giving annually to the UCA Fund in 1989 and never stopped.
“Frankly, I was shocked” when told of the fact, John said. “First of all because it had been that many years (it seems like just yesterday we were students at UCA) and second that someone hasn’t been continuously giving longer than us.”
The two met in college at a Phi Sigma Epsilon fraternity rush party and dated throughout their college career, getting married two weeks after graduation in 1981.
John currently is the deputy chief of the Flight Test Infrastructure Division of the Missile Defense Agency, while Liz is pursuing her RN certification and is expected to graduate in May of this year.
The couple has three children, Morgaine Ellis Kim, Marshall Ellis and Ross Ellis, and while their children did not attend UCA, several of their relatives did, including John’s mother, brother and sister-in-law and two nephews along with several nieces and nephews on Liz’ side.
Neither said they made a conscious decision to begin giving, but did feel compelled to give back once they were able.
“When I was in grad school at UT, we didn’t have much money and really feel like we couldn’t afford to give anything. I felt bad about that,” John said. “We started giving regularly after graduation and getting a “real” job. What really got us started was a call from a student at UCA during one of UCA’s annual giving drives. The student was very cheerful and seemed really dedicated to the university. We talked for some time and I ended up committing to a small amount, maybe $10, but it didn’t seem so small at the time. Over time we’ve increased the amount, but I always love hearing from the UCA students when they call.”
"I was the recipient of financial aid and felt it was important to pay it forward,” Liz added. “I was the first in my family of 6 children to graduate with a 4 year degree; both of my parents never finished high school & were children of the Great Depression.
“Economic hardship often is the only reason preventing intelligent individuals from receiving an education and I hope contributing to a university scholarship fund can help other Arkansans achieve financial independence through education & career preparation."
“I strongly believe in the value of a higher education,” John said. “And I want everyone that is capable to have a chance at it. I also believe strongly in the educational value smaller state schools like UCA provide (though UCA isn’t all that small anymore), where faculty are much more free to focus on educating and training students instead of being totally focused on research.
“My experience at larger schools is that faculty are almost completely evaluated on their research success (mainly on bringing research dollars) and almost no emphasis is given to excellence in teaching. I found the complete opposite at UCA, where faculty members seemed very dedicated to teaching, mentoring, and molding students into successful graduates. I must assume this is due to a university philosophy that does but great emphasis on teaching, while still maintaining a health research program.