Eleanor Walsh Wertimer has died. She was 91 years old. She led an exemplary life, championing social justice for children, youth and families with intelligence and humor.
She moved to Clinton with her husband, Sidney, in 1952 and joined the Hamilton College Community. In her sixty years on The Hill, she saw and contributed behind-the-scenes to major changes such as the addition of women to the Hamilton faculty and staff; the rise of Kirkland College, Hamilton’s all-female cohort; Kirkland’s merger with Hamilton and the college’s subsequent development as a coeducational institution. By her death she had become a mentor and role model to generations of students, faculty and administrators – especially women – at the college.
She was born in Buffalo in 1922. She attended the Buffalo Seminary, graduating in 1939, and Smith College, Class of 1944. After obtaining her Juris Doctor in 1946 from the University of Buffalo Law School, she was admitted to the New York State Bar the following year, at a time when few women chose the legal profession. She became an associate at the Buffalo firm, Kenefick, Cook, Mitchell, Bass and Letchworth. But then World War II and her marriage to Sidney intervened.
After arriving at Hamilton in 1952 with their first two children, Ellie and Sidney began opening their home and their hearts to students and faculty alike. She constantly put herself out there, leading the Cub Scouts and Brownies, joining the Mothers Club and the Community Chest, eventually getting elected to the Clinton School Board and serving as its president.
As her youngest child entered school, she began clerking for Judge John P. Gualtieri. Then, in 1976, she was elected Kirkland Town Justice, a post she would hold for over twenty years. In 1981, she was named Executive Director of Family Services of Greater Utica, having previously served as attorney for the Oneida County Department of Family Services. The challenging work of caring for children and families in crisis weighed on her emotionally, but she advocated strongly and effectively for them.
After retiring from Family Services in 1992, Ellie also served as Interim Director of the YWCA of Mohawk Valley (1994-95) and as the Interim Director of the United Way of Greater Utica (1997.)
During her career, she was appointed to unexpired terms of elective offices, serving as a judge in Family Court in 1980-81 by appointment of Governor Mario Cuomo and as a Utica City Court Judge in 1993.
Her community service actually escalated as her career went on. She served with distinction on boards, commissions and committees too numerous to mention, including the Utica Children’s Hospital, the YWCA of Greater Utica, the Children’s Museum, the Greater Utica Area United Way and the Utica Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The honors, awards and distinctions that Ellie garnered in her lifetime are also too numerous to list entirely. Highlights include: the Isabel Arthur Human Services Award from the United Way of Greater Utica (1992), the SUNY Distinguished Service Award (1995), the YWCA Salute to Outstanding Women Award (1997), the Hamilton College Alumni Association’s Bell Ringer Award (2001), the Smith College Medal (2002), the Oneida County Historical Society’s Living Legend Award (2003), the naming of the Eleanor Walsh Wertimer Children’s Center in the Oneida County Courthouse (2003), and the dedication of the Eleanor and Sidney Wertimer House on the Hamilton Campus (2005.)
She is survived by her brother, Edward Walsh (Holly) and two sisters, Geraldine Clauss and Sheila Parizeau. She was predeceased by her husband in 2005, her parents John and Geraldine Walsh of Buffalo, her older brother Jack Walsh (Sally) and her sister Gertrude (“Googie”) Butler.
Her loving children are Peter Wertimer (wife, Alicia Mendicino and daughter, Paige) of Mount Pleasant, SC; Sheila Wertimer (husband, Gary Gruca and children Matthew, Kelly and Emily) of Charleston, SC; Stephen Wertimer (wife, Jane Bolster and children Frances, John and Eva) of New York City; and Thomas Wertimer (wife Raylene Salthouse and children Sidney, Charlotte and Patrick) of Pelham, NY.
In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to the Heston Fund of the Utica YWCA; 1000 Cornelia St: Utica, NY 13502.
A memorial mass will be held at Saint Mary’s Church on Marvin St. in Clinton on Saturday, January 25, 2014 - which would have been Ellie’s 92nd birthday - at 12 p.m. immediately followed by a celebration in her honor at the Commons at Hamilton College. All are welcome. Online memorial and guestbook available at www.heintzfuneralservice.net.