Grubbs remembered as tireless, creative spirit

By Jane Beathard

July 11, 2014

She was a creative force, inspirational teacher and true “blythe spirit.”

Friends remembered the late Ellie Grubbs this week as an energetic artist who was devoted to both her family and community.

Grubbs died on June 22 at age 85. A memorial celebration is set for July 26 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in London.

“Ellie was one of the most ‘can do,’ tireless and creative persons I have ever known,” said friend Joyce Hildebrand. “She was super domestic, a terrific hostess and inventive cook.”

The two women were friends for more than 50 years. Together, they were a driving force behind the London School-Community Theater — a forerunner of the Madison County Arts Council.

Grubbs either designed and created costumes or sets for all 25 community theater productions between 1961 and 1986. She also starred in the 1963 production of “Blythe Spirit,” playing a medium who communicated with the dead, Hildebrand said.

“One set design which stands out from all the others was for the 1976 production of ‘Pursuit of Happiness,’” Hildebrand added.

The musical commemorated the American Bicentennial and meshed the country’s history with notable events from Madison County’s past.

“She could draw anything,” Hildebrand said of Grubbs.

Cartoons were a special favorite.

Former sheriff Herb Markley and former treasurer “Shag” Stidham, both friends of Grubbs, remembered one whimsical sketch that memorialized a not-so-funny incident in the county’s past.

While serving as Markley’s chief deputy, Stidham was overpowered and taken prisoner while questioning a pair of robbery suspects in the jail.

“They threw salt in Shag’s eyes and grabbed his gun,” Markley said.

The men forced Stidham to drive toward Plattsburg, then left him safely handcuffed to a wheat drill on Old Springfield Road. Markley’s version of the story left Stidham attached to a manure spreader, Stidham said.

Grubbs penned a caricature of Stidham shackled to a manure spreader. The cartoon traveled with Stidham as he moved from deputy to county treasurer. It hung in his courthouse office for the next 39 years.

“Ellie was such a nice person,” Stidham said. “I would do anything for her.”

Grubbs not only created art. She also taught others to understand it, said former London High School teacher Vici Geer.

Grubbs developed the school’s art curriculum and became its first art teacher in 1969. First classes were held in Grubbs’ downtown gift shop, The Licorice Door, due to a space shortage in the old high school building. For the next 25 years, her students learned to paint and draw. They also learned to appreciate diverse artists and their styles, Geer said.

Geer remembered one boy who was consistently truant from school, but would show up exclusively for Grubbs’ class.

“She was the favorite teacher for a generation,” Geer said.

Jane Beathard can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 1616 or via Twitter @JaneBeathard.