It is with heavy hearts and immense gratitude that Hannan Center shares the passing of Ellen Kayrod Fisher who was a member of the Hannan team for more than forty years.
Joining the organization as a social worker, Ellen was eventually promoted to executive director. Per her account, she did not know about the promotion until she was asked to attend a Board of Trustees meeting. At that time, the Board met in the Detroit Club, which barred women. Ellen had to enter by taking an elevator in the adjoining Free Press building and sneaking through the back door. That clandestine meeting was the beginning of her service as the executive director which lasted for three decades.
Ellen led Hannan successfully through two significant changes. The first was the building of Hannan House, which transitioned the organization from serving low-income older people in their own homes to serving seniors in a residential setting. Many years after Hannan House was built, some subsidized, low-income senior apartment buildings were constructed in the immediate area. These buildings provided apartments that were much more attractive to independent older adults than the single rooms with congregate dining that Hannan House provided. Ellen realized that Hannan could not compete with these new options and that the organization should look at alternative ways that the building and its resources could be used to serve seniors in need. After a strategic planning process that included a needs assessment by the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology and an advisory committee of senior service providers, Hannan Foundation decided to convert its building from a residence into a center where Hannan would provide services and programs to older adults living in the community. Today, twenty five years after that transition, Hannan continues to meet the changing needs of metro Detroit area seniors, and promote creative and purposeful activity that enriches their lives.
After retiring, Ellen, who had been a widow for some years, married a long-time friend, Blake Fisher, who was also a widower. They lived in Newaygo, Michigan until his death, upon which she returned to the Detroit area.
Former executive director, Tim Wintermute, shared the following sentiments, “Ellen was a champion for low-income older adults and a true “servant leader” who believed strongly in Hannan’s mission. She was a friendly, gracious and compassionate person, always quick with a smile, a positive comment, and encouragement. Her ability to listen and put people at ease was remarkable. Ellen was also quite humble and quick to credit others and downplay her own contributions. In fact, many people had no idea that she was the person chiefly responsible for calmly and competently steering Hannan through these dramatic and difficult changes. In fact, she actually didn’t want any fuss when she retired and was completely surprised when the art gallery was named in her honor.”
I had the opportunity to meet Ellen on a couple of occasions, and each time she would share her love for the organization and its mission. We appreciate her contributions to our work and the field of aging, and for that, her memory will always have a place here at Hannan.