GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) She has been described as a "trail blazer" and "community treasure" for the city of Grand Rapids. Dr. Ella Mary Sims died at the age of 89 on Wednesday, January 23rd. She will be missed by many, but never forgotten.
"By virtue of age she's been out of the public eye for a few years. But, she has helped shape the community in many ways," said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell who asked for a moment of silence, in honor of Sims, during this 2013 State of the City address.
Dr. Ella Sims moved to Grand Rapids in 1946 and would spend most of the next 65 years working to improve the lives of Grand Rapids residents, especially minorities and women. During the 1960's, she led efforts to create fair and affordable housing for minorities.
"She was very much a part of the housing projects that ended up coming here and increasing the standards of living for the African American lifestyle," said William "Tom" Sims, Ella's 4th son. "She got active in the community being a standard holder of truth. She just voiced her opinion, as God gave it to her, and it took her to different places to be an influence in different areas."
Granddaughter, Meia Sims-Love, says "Grandma taught us community is everything. Service to your community is everything and if you are not a part of the solution you are a part of the problem."
Dr. Sims was definitely part of the solution. Her devotion and dedication earned her the respect of people from all walks of life.
"One of my younger brothers, his school was having an excursion in Washington D.C. He was at the White House and President Ford said isn't that Ella's child,' Tom fondly remembers.
Sims, who received the NAACP Floyd Skinner Award, in 1968, and the Giants Among Giants award, in 2005, received countless honors through her work promoting causes like adult education and economic opportunity and equality.
She helped found the Women's Resource Center in the early 1970's and served on boards of the YWCA, Family Outreach Center, NAACP, Salvation Army, United Way, Michigan League of Human Services and and Aquinas College where she retired as Director of Minority Affairs.
"I respected her persistence the most about her," said Heartwell. "When she knew what she wanted, and she knew what was best, she could in a most gentle way bring you around."
In 2009, Heartwell selected Sims as one of his "Champions of Diversity", an honor he gives "elders who had been deeply engaged in civil rights in this community and across the country Ms. Sims was one of them," he said.
Sims was also the first African American woman to write a weekly column in the Grand Rapids Press called "It Seems To Me." The column gave Sims a platform to discuss important issues that many were unwilling or unable to address before.
"The original African American Carrie Bradshaw, if you will," said Sims-Love.
Micah Sims remembers his grandmother skill at reaching people well.
"She had a way of talking to people that made them feel like they were the most important person in the world," he said.
But with all of her accomplishments there was no question what was top on Ella Sims list of priorities.
"She was a family woman. Family came first," he said.
Family came first with Sims. But, so did her faith, which propelled her to achieve the success she attained.
"Never a question. God was her motivation. God kept her going. God sustained her. And she understood everything that was good in her came from Him," said Tom. "I don't think she can be remembered for anything other than what she was and that is a true child of God. That is what she would to be remembered as.
A pioneer of our times, Dr. Sims leaves behind 5 generations of a family. Progeny that hope to keep her legacy alive.
"We might not have seen all the things she did but we can feel it and we hear from the community," said Micah Sims.
"She spent her mature adult life focused on her community. That was everything to her," said Sims-Love. "Now we as grandchildren and great-grandchildren want to do her legacy proud being the same way."
The family is holding a public viewing for Sims 1:00-5:00 p.m. and a community reflection service between 6:00 and 8:00p.m. on Friday, February 1st between at True Light Baptist Church, 900 Thomas SE Grand Rapids. The Community is invited to attend the service.
A private funeral will take place Saturday, February 2nd. Contributions can be made in memory of Dr. Ella Mary Sims to Step of Faith Church, to support the Kids Hope USA program.