Dr. Richard Bernhardt Ellis, 72, of Topeka, passed away Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
He was born May 2, 1949, in Passaic, New Jersey, the son of Joseph Bernhardt and Loraine (Webster) Ellis. He was a graduate of Pequannock Township High School in New Jersey. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in History, his Master’s Degree and Doctorate in Human Development and Family Services from Kansas State University.
Dr. Ellis began his career at Washburn University in (what is now) the Family and Human Services department in 1990, coming on as a full-time faculty member the following year. Rick came to the University with strong academic credentials and many years of experience at Capital City High School. He served as chair of the Family and Human Services department from 2004-2006 and helped develop the department from certificate to degree granting.
Rick’s passion was providing learning through community engagement opportunities. He was integral in the founding of LinC (Learning in the Community) at Washburn, which began as a student organization and later became Washburn’s Center for Community and Civic Engagement, of which he became director in 2006. Over his career, Rick and his team raised over $4,000,000 in grants for Center activities. Through the Center, Washburn students are able to pursue a Poverty Studies minor, become a Bonner Scholar, and complete a Washburn Transformational Experience in Community and Civic Engagement. Over the years Rick led service trips to Nicaragua and helped organize “alternative break” opportunities for students in the U.S. Rick also gave much of his personal time and effort to local community service activities, volunteering with organizations such as Concerned Citizens for Topeka, Let’s Help, Literacy Action Network, and the Topeka AIDS Project.
Rick’s dedication to his students and Washburn are evidenced by his many accomplishments, including being recognized with the Herrick Award for Service, the Muriel D. Clark Student Life Award, and the Bonner Foundation Lifetime Service Award. He was recently selected as a Brandeis University Fellow.
Rick married Colleen Garson on October 18, 1970 in New Jersey. He was a devoted loving husband, father and grandfather. Colleen survives him in Topeka. Other survivors include two sons, Cameron Ellis and his wife, Johana Castano, their daughter, Isabella Ellis of Houston, TX and Schuyler Ellis and his fiancé, Brandy Hirsch of Portland, OR; his identical twin brother, Paul Ellis of Sugar Loaf, NY; his beloved dogs, Bosco and Pepper and his horse TucKer. He is also survived by his extended Washburn family of students and colleagues of whom he influenced and mentored throughout the years as a fervent advocate of social justice, human rights and equality.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Curtis Ellis on February 14, 2021.
Rick fancied himself a “cowboy” which he made clear through the way he dressed. Over many years Rick accumulated a huge collection of boots, hats and other cowboy apparel. He loved his horse, TucKer, who he rode with passion at the Round-Up Club in Topeka. He was an avid reader, who watched TV Westerns regularly, enjoyed driving his sports car and telling stories of his adventures with his students. Rick never knew a stranger. He could, and often would, talk to anyone about anything and entertained his friends and family with his amazing sense of humor and quick wit.
Honoring his request, cremation is planned. A memorial celebration of Dr. Ellis’ life will be held at 3:00 p.m., Sunday, October 3, 2021 at the Washburn University Memorial Union, Washburn A and B Rooms, 1700 SW College, Topeka, KS 66621. Please be aware that attendees of the live celebration must respect the University's mask requirement. To view the service live please click on the following link: https://washburn.zoom.us
Dove Cremations and Funerals, Southwest Chapel is assisting the family.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Washburn University Foundation, in care of the LinC Scholarship Fund, 1729 SW MacVicar Ave, Topeka, KS 66604 or to the Round-Up Club, 7843 SW 37th St, Topeka, KS 66614.
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