Ellis honored with Greenwood Park mural

Pictured is Ruston’s Wilbert Ellis posing with two of his great-grandchildren in front of the Greenwood Park mural he is depicted on. (Courtesy photo)

By T. Scott Boatright

Coach Wilbert Ellis has long stood watch over the youth of Lincoln Parish, especially on Ruston’s East End where the College Hall of Fame Baseball coach and Grambling Legends Hall of Famer grew up.

Ellis has made himself one of the giants in working with youth in Louisiana, of it’s only fitting that he is a featured part of the “On the Shoulder of Giants” mural recently unveiled on the wall of “The Blue Building” that serves as the gymnasium at Greenwood Memorial Park.

The mural is part of NCLAC’s Lift Every Voice Initiative to acknowledge the contributions of Black members of our community and collaborate with unique voices to listen and learn from their experiences. 

Vitus Shell, project lead and a visiting professor of art at Louisiana Tech and Drèk Davis, project collaborator and head of the Grambling State University Department of Visual and Performing Arts, were the two lead artists for the project. 

Both artists are also members of the Black Creatives Circle of North Louisiana.

The project was supported by a grant to NCLAC from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, as administered by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council. Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment of the Arts.

Ruston Mayor Ronnie Walker knows what the mural means and how much Ellis has given to the city of Ruston.

“If you haven’t been out to see the ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ mural since its completion at Greenwood Park, you are missing out,” Walker said in a recent Facebook post. “The mural celebrates the community that surrounds the former Greenwood School, Coach Wilbert Ellis, and the original Zion Traveler Church.”

Last January Ellis received 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.

In 2015,  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.

And last June, Ellis was inducted into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame in Baton Rouge for his proactive approach in working with youth conducting clinics teaching hardball skills at the same time as offering instruction on the importance of life skills such as staying in school and completing their educations, staying away from drugs and alcohol and becoming productive citizens upon entering adulthood.

Ellis said he had been interviewed by organizers a while back about his work with youth in the area as well some of the other work he’s done over there years such as 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. 

“So they interviewed me, but I had no idea what or what it was all about,” Ellis said. “I didn’t know about the mural until a few days before I was called to go to Greenwood Park. It wasn’t until I got out there that I realized what all they had done.

“A few days before I was asked to go to ‘The Blue Building’ my grandson’s little son told his mom he had seen me at the park,” Ellis said. “I told her, no, I wasn’t at the park. But I didn’t think anything about it until they called, and I went out there, and there it was.”

Ellis didn’t attend Greenwood Elementary School but instead went to Ruston Elementary. 

But that doesn’t mean Ellis doesn’t have ties to the former school that stood on the site where Greenwood Park is now located.

“My sister Bobbie went there, and so did my wife, Betty,” Ellis said. “And both my family and my wife’s family attended Zion Traveler going way back to those days.”

Ellis said there was something maybe even more exciting for him than seeing his own picture on the wall of the building/

“They had little kids involved helping to do some of the painting on the smaller sections, that’s what excited me the most,” Ellis said. “My grandson’s little daughter was one of the painters. She said she got to thinking about it while she was painting and what all was involved with all the features — me, Zion Traveler Church and the Greenwood School and community.

“And that’s how you get children to learn about history — you let them become part of it, too. And now my whole family is and I’m just so appreciative to everyone.”