By T. Scott Boatright
There’s no question what Ruston native and lifelong resident Wilbert Ellis means to his hometown and Lincoln Parish as a whole.
The proof is in the pudding — a sweet cornucopia of awards of many different kinds for the man known as “the man for all reasons and seasons” here in the piney, red-dirt hills.
On Jan. 25, Ellis will receive the 2021 Bill Best Humanitarian Award from the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. That award was established in 1997 by the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce to recognize a local citizen for their outstanding contributions to humanitarian interests, unselfish giving, and service to others.
But the award is only the latest on a long list of honors for the former longtime Grambling State University baseball coach and athletics administrator, who was named to the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2007.
This latest award comes six years after the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce honored Ellis with the 2015 Robert E. Russ Award, the highest honor given by the Chamber for community advancement.
Ellis in Lincoln Parish’s “Energizer Bunny” — the 85-year old simply keeps going and going and going.
He has never tired of giving back to the area and people he has so much love for. His involvement in the humanitarian interest in Lincoln Parish has included, but isn’t limited to, serving as chairman of the Ruston Park and Recreation Board, vice chairman of the Lincoln Health System, past President and member of the Board of Directors for Lincoln General Hospital, Board of Directors for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, Grambling State University National Alumni Association, Planning and Zoning Committee for the City of Ruston, Ruston 21 Planning Committee, Lincoln Parish Biracial Committee, President of the Friends of the Eddie Robinson Museum and as a member of the D.A.R.T (Domestic Abuse Resistance Team) Men Standing Strong Campaign.
“It’s important to give back,” Ellis said. “It’s important to support your community and university. Giving back is so important. Respect is earned and not given. Self-esteem comes from personal achievement and is not inherited. Education creates opportunities. It doesn’t guarantee success. That’s found from within. Real success is about accomplishing what others believe to be impossible.”
Rick Gallot, a Lincoln Parish native (Grambling) as well as GSU graduate and current university President Rick Gallot knows how much Gallot has given back to many.
“Coach Ellis exemplifies an amazing life based on principle, passion and purpose. His contributions are too numerous to mention and his impact has spanned many decades,” Gallot said. “He is revered as one of the Grambling Greats, along with Prez (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Jones, Coach Fred Hobdy and of course, Coach Eddie Robinson. His intelligence and abilities granted him the ability to go anywhere and do almost anything.
“However, his commitment to God’s purpose for his life kept him here at GSU to impact generations of students and the great legacy of this institution. It is only fitting that the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber and all of us pause to acknowledge and recognize a true legend in our midst.”
For a decade, Ellis was also renowned for providing a rite of summer for youth from north Louisiana and beyond as they started to begin preparations to head into the month of August and the start of a new school year by conducting his annual free baseball clinic for hundreds of children at Fraser Field in Ruston.
The Ellis Baseball clinic featured Grambling State baseball coaches as well as former players like Ralph Garr and George Stone from Major League Baseball. In addition, the clinics were designated to teach about fundamentals and also featured Ruston Police Chief Steve Rogers, District Attorney John Belton, Domestic Abuse Resistance Team advocate Terrie Queen Autry and others talk to campers about life skills like the importance of staying away from drugs, focusing on their education and how to respond to potentially dangerous situations in the proper way.
“We believe the clinics are important not only because of the kids learning about baseball, but also because of all the life skills, which is what they need to thrive,” Ellis said. “Even a Major Leaguer can’t play baseball forever.
The ongoing COVID pandemic canceled the Ellis Clinics in 2020 and last summer, but Lincoln Parish’s living legend is hopeful to eventually be able to return to Fraser Field and do what he loves most of all — serving young people.
“It’s been disappointing,” Ellis admits about the last two clinics being canceled. “We’re proud of what the clinic has meant to the kids who have attended and to their parents, who have expressed appreciation for what their children have been taught and what they have learned themselves about parenting skills during the camps.
“But the safety of everyone involved is the most important thing of all. I still have hope and faith that by next summer, things will get better and we get out there and do it again.”
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