Where Food, Drinks & Stories Are Shared

Ellen McDonald

December 10, 1936 - March 23, 2024
Kalamazoo, MI



Saturday, May 11, 2024
1:00 PM EDT
First United Methodist Church
212 S. Park St.
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
(269) 381-6340
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
Driving Directions
Web Site

Taylor's Florist and Gifts
215 E. Michigan Ave.
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-6256
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


The family of Ellen McDonald wishes to announce her passing on March 23, 2024. The cause of her death was pulmonary embolism, but she had lived and struggled with dementia for almost a decade. While her memory failed her – to the end not so her sense of humor and sweet disposition.

Ellen was born on December 10,1936 and spent her childhood in Muskegon, Michigan. She left Muskegon for Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan where she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing. Her nursing career spanned decades, including stints at The Family Health Center of Kalamazoo, as a pediatric visiting nurse at Visiting Nurses Association, and for a short time as a Hospice Nurse. A common thread throughout her nursing career was caring for underserved individuals.

While at the University of Michigan Ellen met James “Jim” McDonald who, so the story goes, asked her out because she “looked like the bike riding type”. Many bike rides, countless pots of tea, a few towns, and much love later - they were married for 57 years when Jim died in 2016. Surviving Ellen are their three children: Jamie McDonald Kamm (Brian Kamm), Tim McDonald (Kathy Hagenian), and Bonnie McDonald (Chuck Paget); eight grandchildren: Connor, Allison, Sean, Kasey, Luke, Zach, Alec, and Christian; and one great-grandson, Henry.

Ellen was a gatherer of people. Multiple groups of friends, neighbors and colleagues endured for years and played central roles in her life. Her love for quilt making evolved into “Monday Night Quilting” at her house. During these co-ed(!) gatherings - friends who had sewn lots, little, or none at all, were taught how to make quilts. Countless quilts were made on Monday nights over the years. “Support Group”, “Old Buddies Group”, and “Neighbors Book Group” are among other longstanding, cherished groups.

Ellen was a giver and an organizer. She founded the “Blanket Project” which for 20 years collected and distributed ~400 handmade blankets per year to children in crisis through organizations such as Camp New Day for children with an incarcerated parent or women’s shelters. She organized the annual “Giving Tree” at First United Methodist Church to provide holidays presents to families in need. Over many years she and Jim provided month long homestays via Colleagues International/Global Ties for professionals who came from around the world to intern in organizations in the Kalamazoo area. They maintained long distance relationships with many. Ellen was ahead of her time in advocating for inclusion and justice for marginalized communities. She lived by example, making countless choices over time in the workplace, church and larger community that reflect this view.

Ellen was a nurturer. She is referred to as a “second mother” by two younger siblings. She was a loving mother that worked herself out of a job in the best possible way - by instilling a sense of confidence and competence in her children. She was a “down on the ground drawing with chalk in the driveway all morning long” kind of grandma. After long distance grandchildren left her home after a visit, the dried apple juice was left on the floor for a few days as a reminder of time together.

Ellen was a woman of balance. She was always on the move, but embraced and enjoyed the simple pleasures of life. She got an extraordinary amount done in a day but found time to sit quietly with a cup of tea watching birds out the window or with a good book. And she always had time for friends and family.

Ellen is lovingly remembered and missed by many. A celebration of her life and memorial service will be held Saturday, May 11th at 1:00pm at the First United Methodist Church of Kalamazoo. “Afternoon Tea” - a tribute to Ellen and Jim’s abiding love for “teatime” - will be served. Those desiring to make a donation in Ellen’s name are encouraged to make a donation to the organization of their choice.

Visit Ellen’s webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive your favorite memories, photos, or sign her guestbook. Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900.