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June 15, 1924 ~ August 17, 2023 (age 99) 99 Years Old
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Ellen McDowell, 99, of Champaign passed away Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, at her home.
Ellen Jane Attebery was born June 15, 1924, at St. Mary’s Hospital in East St. Louis, Illinois, on an early Sunday morning as a storm eliminated electricity in the hospital. Her parents were Clark and Lydia Attebery. She attended St. Philip Grade School and St. Teresa Academy in her home city. In September 1942, she registered at the University of Illinois with 11 dollars to pay for a room with kitchen privileges and was able to defer payment of tuition and fees. With the help of her parents, two jobs, several scholarships, and moving to a University Co-op, Alpha House, she graduated with highest honors and a fine arts degree in painting.
On January 23, 1947, at St. John’s Catholic Chapel, she married Austin McDowell, Instructor in Music and a returning WWII Navy pilot. Austin died on December 4, 2013, as retired Director of the School of Music at the University of Illinois. They were married for 66 years.
One quality that stood out was Ellen’s extraordinary memory. In her own words, she “remembers watching Charles Lindbergh sitting on the back of an open car in a parade, the Crash of 1929, the Great Depression, triple dip cones for five cents, the New Deal, Amelia Earhart, Pearl Harbor, and Hiroshima.” Raising six children through the Cold War, Rock N’ Roll, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and beyond forged a deep commitment to peace, justice, and the rights of the poor and marginalized. In 1964, Ellen met and was influenced by Dorothy Day, becoming part of the first Catholic Worker House in Champaign-Urbana. She was active in Pax Christi and the Martin Luther King Jr. Advocacy for Justice Committee. In 2009, with other volunteers, she helped found the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen which still thrives, serving meals to almost 400 individuals on a daily basis. Known fondly to guests as “Miss Ellen,” she initiated the organization’s assistance program which has helped ensure hundreds of community members better access to employment, healthcare, and independence.
Immensely talented as a painter and a writer, Ellen often put her family above her own self-expression. A number of her writings were professionally published, and her oil paintings, one of which won a prestigious award when she was still in college, remain a legacy that will be cherished by her family. Ellen taught painting in the Adult Education Program at Central High School and volunteered in numerous organizations including Girl Scouts and Holy Cross Youth Group.
She was a tireless and loving mother, devoted and loyal wife, compassionate grandmother, and active community member. Ellen brightened peoples’ days with her beautiful smile, positive attitude, great sense of humor, fierce intellect,curiosity, and an amazing ability to quote a complete poem or passage from literature at a moment’s notice. She loved progressive politics, studying history and spirituality, reading voraciously, listening to opera, classical and devotional music, being in nature, gardening, camping at Pere Marquette State Park, and even learning to swim in her 60s. Those who knew her appreciated her great love of beauty and ability to find the good in everyone.
Preceding her in death were her husband Austin, two sons, James and Joseph, her parents, two brothers, David and Fred, and beloved Aunts, Isabel, and Ellen.
Surviving are brother, Col. John Attebury, Lusby, MD. Children, Mary, Nashville, TN, Ann (Henry Szujewski), Champaign, John (Alexandra Spadea), New York, Andrew, Champaign, Peter, Los Angeles. Grandchildren, Lily Szujewski, James Szujewski, Andrea McDowell, and Luna Spadea McDowell. Also mourning her loss are many In-laws, nieces, nephews, grand nieces, and grand nephews to whom she was “Aunt Ellen.”
She died after a short battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The family wishes to thank Patricia Mills for her loyalty and loving care. A memorial mass and a celebration of life will be held later this fall.
Memorials may be sent to: Daily Bread Soup Kitchen PO BOX 648, Champaign, IL 61824-0648, Living the Dream Scholarship Fund, c/o Rev. Claude Shelby, 500 W. Park, Champaign, IL 61820, Holy Cross Church, 405 W. Clark St. Champaign, IL 61820. Her family also asks you to consider a gift to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.