Maceo Ellison, EC’s oldest pupil, marks his tenth year as a senior student

Dr. Maceo Ellison, a attends his music history class in Irion Hall.  Photo by Abby Robb

Dr. Maceo Ellison, a attends his music history class in Irion Hall. Photo by Abby Robb

By Syeda Sameeha, News Reporter

“I’m not a very interesting person,” said Dr. Maceo Russell Ellison.

But Ellison is being modest. 

At 90 years-of-age, Ellison, a retired internist, is the oldest current student at EC; attending since 2007. 

“This is one of the high points of my life,” Ellison said on his time at EC. “I can’t think of anything more enlightening, refreshing, enjoyable than being here. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.”

Ellison was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on August 25, 1927. After his sophomore year of high school, his family and he moved to Chicago for better economic opportunity.

“Grand Rapids was very slow, nothing to do there. Mostly, my father was a waiter at a hotel which didn’t pay very much,” explained Ellison, “My mother was a stay at home mom, everybody was a stay at home mom in those days. She had six children so she needed to stay at home and take care of them.”

In Chicago, Ellison found it difficult to adjust to a big city and was very homesick at first. To his further dismay, the school he attended, McKinley High School, did not have a track for college at the time, so when students graduated they did not have the credits to apply for college.

“That was in an all-African American neighborhood, so that might have been something to do with it,” remarked Ellison.

Even though he knew he did not have any money for college and questioned how he would even apply, Ellison remained optimistic.

“I figured something might happen, fairy godmother-like stuff,” said Ellison.

Ellison transferred to Marshall High School, a college preparatory school, and graduated from there.

But a month after Ellison graduated high school, his father passed away. 

With his three younger siblings and a mother who was unable to work, Ellison became the sole breadwinner for the family after his father’s passing.

“I didn’t see any path other than working. I had to support my family,” said Ellison. “I think it was more of ‘How am I ever going to realize my aspirations, but this is something you have to do. You obviously have to support your family, you are not going to walk away from it and leave them without any financial support.’ That was a defining moment for me, because you’re just going to have to do whatever is necessary.”

Six months after he started working and attending junior college, he was drafted into the Army for mandatory service and stayed till 1947. 

The Army was not an enjoyable experience for Ellison largely due to the prominent racism in the South at the time where Ellison was stationed.

“When I got off the bus, I was from Chicago, and there isn’t that type of discrimination here. I walked into bus station and it said one drinking fountain here is colored and one is white, so I said, ‘To Hell with this,’ so I drank from the white fountain, but it was dangerous,” said Ellison.

While in service, Ellison was part of the medical corp and worked in the hospital for most of the time, so he considers his time in the Army to be not entirely bad. 

After coming home from the army, Ellison went back to junior college and attended Roosevelt University in Chicago.

“From 1946 to 1953, I was working eight hours a day and trying to get enough credits because I was interested in going to medical school,” said Ellison.

Ellison had a love for biology, so he decided to go to medical school. 

With three years of college under Ellison’s belt, he was getting a little desperate because he felt like he was getting too old at his age of 26 then.

With only 93 semester hours and one year short, he applied to medical school to see what would happen and to his shock, he was accepted to University of Illinois Medical School. 

After graduating in 1953, Ellison headed for an internship in Milwaukee and then West Chicago where he worked at a practice for a couple of years. 

He later went back to do his residency at Hines Hospital for two years and another two years at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Ellison considers his greatest accomplishment in life is taking care of his patients and connecting with all of them.

“My practice years were one of the most rewarding years of my life. We were all like one big family and when I retired, I collected all my patients phone numbers and sometimes they call me,” Ellison reflected.

Now, Ellison spends his retirement focusing on his many passions which include reading his favorite author Shakespeare, discussing religion, music, and spending time with family.

In fact, most of the classes Ellison takes at Elmhurst College are music classes.

“I was in band from grammar school to high school and it has been my passion ever since,” said Ellison.

He attributes most of his energy to do all of this stuff to the fact he exercises everyday. 

“Physically I feel fine. I have a lot of energy,” said Ellison. “Recently we moved to a retirement community and everyday I go down to the exercise facility and then I come back to do my housework because I think exercise kicks up my endorphins, I exercise and I have energy for the rest of the day.”

“I think I’m just a half glass full person,” he continued. “I don’t look at anything from the downside part. I think happiness is to certain extent is depending on your expectations, your expectation should be realistic. If you get 80 percent of what you’re trying to achieve; that’s success.”