Resa Ellison Tribute

Resa Ellison

Icon of St Romanos the Melodist

A beautiful new icon of St. Romanos the Melodist has been blessed in connection with the first anniversary of the death of Resa Ellison. St. Romanos is Resa's patron saint. (You can read about him at

The iconographer is Dimitry Shkolnik, who is the iconographer retained by the Cathedral for the final phase of our interior renovation program.

St. Romanos

Resa EllisonResa's Funeral Service and Funeral Liturgy at St. Mary's Orthodox Cathedral, Minneapolis, MN, January 7 & 8, 2010 Written for and read by Resa's sister, Rachel, at the Memorial Meal...

Dear ones, on behalf of our family: We are humbled by your prayers, your love for Resa and for us, the work you did and are doing to help usher Resa into the kingdom, and by your words of comfort and support. I hope, in the coming moments to express some aspects of who Resa is and was. I know that I will fail in many respects and want to acknowledge that this is just a small fragment of her. Each of you carries a special and unique knowledge of who Resa is, the person that you know and carry is precious. We want you to continue to love and cherish that unique understanding of Resa that is unknown to some of us and to know that somehow the person that you know, the person I know – each facet of her is held, known, and not forgotten by God. You hold this part of her but you do not hold it alone.

My husband, Clark, asked me this week, after a boisterous evening with the Ellison clan, how the evening would have been different if Resa had been there. My immediate response was: louder, funnier, and with a catch phrase or a theme song. That was Resa’s gift, she had an incredible ability to amplify any experience, make it richer, and express the richness and humor present in it.

Even as a child Resa possessed a voracious intellect and creative mind that challenged her parents and teachers, delighted her friends, and mystified her older sister. Resa’s curiosity drove her to explore everything, and leave a mess in her wake, until she learned to read and was introduced to the rich world of literature. From that point on she was absorbed by the written word. In third grade, her teacher knew Resa was smart and could do the work in front of her, but was unable to motivate her. Resa, of course, was bored – this was all so beneath her, why do a worksheet full of problems she already knew how to do? But once mom suggested the teacher tell Resa she could read as soon as she was done with her classwork, the teacher never had another problem with Resa again. She seemed to swallow books whole: We lived one block from the town library and in the summer I think we would walk over there every day because Resa already needed another book to read. When we were old enough to be interested in serials – I would read novels about historically significant women and mysteries while Resa would read the Wizard of Oz series, over and over and over again. Mom finally had to make a rule that she had to read one other book in between each OZ book. But, she was captivated by this fantasy world, this parallel universe where creatures and beings existed because the author and the reader agreed to bring them into being together. As she grew, our father read the chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, and all of Lewis’ science fiction to us: but Resa is the one who understood them and was captivated by them. As a teenager and adult, she was the one who taught all of us how to read. She read these same books to Mary, she taught our father how to read, really read Chaucer, and she passed on to Sallie and I the books she enjoyed that she thought we would enjoy as well.

As a humorist, of amazingly quick wit – she had the ability to hear what was funny in someone else’s words or to see the humor in a situation, and distill it down into a funny phrase. So many of our family’s memories are memorable because Resa made them so: A visit to a fast food establishment was no longer ordinary with Resa: who wants to go to Steak and Shake when there is Scarf and Barf to be had? Or Wendy’s when there is Vendis? Taco Smell anyone or Burger Fling? And after that, we can sit down for a night of watching Dancing with the Scars.

In the wake of the car accident that left our mother and sister immobilized, Resa moved home to take care of her injured family and she brought joy and laughter into our shell-shocked and grieving home. She particularly helped Mary shape her months of being unable to walk or do anything on her own into funny memories of theme songs, great books, and Jeeves and Wooster. I mean, who can be sad about being in a wheel chair when your older sister is pushing you up a ramp singing Chariots of Fire and you are providing the sound effects? Or embarrassed about a sponge bath when the Indiana Jones theme is being sung? And who can feel sorry for themselves when Bertie Wooster is trying to sing and play syncopated rhythm or trying to steal a cow creamer to please his aunt? She took the experience and made it richer, fuller.

As a vocalist and musician, she had the ability to find the place where word and music rested together and found fuller expression for the pairing. This, I think, is what made her Byzantine chant so powerful – she could join the melodic patterns to the words in such a way that you would suddenly understand the words and be held in the mystery of God’s great love for us without being conscious of her incredible gift: she became the potter’s wheel and we their malleable clay.

I believe she brought this same skill to directing her choir here at St. Mary’s cathedral. Her great desire for you was to help you see and hear the place where the music made the words richer so that together you could offer a sweet sound to God and invite others to do the same. Reflecting on her first Holy Week and Pascha directing you Resa wrote:

Several people have asked me how I thought it all went- and I find it difficult to answer- too many factors to evaluate. There's the actual singing- the pace, the tone, the attentiveness of the choir, etc. Then there's my own performance- how well did I communicate, what mistakes did I make, did I mess up cues, etc. Then there's the human factor- what were sources of conflict or of joy? And finally (and what should be most important)- there's the spiritual journey of Holy Week- did I pray, did I take the teaching of the services to heart, etc.

The good news is that despite the stress, pressure to "perform", and exhausting schedule, I have emerged with enthusiasm for my work still intact! I was surprised to find myself this morning already looking ahead to the next choir practice, making little plans.

You can hear her primary concerns here: She wanted to know how she could communicate better, how the choir could be at peace and find joy in your common task, and grow in your love for Christ through your work together. And she was still looking forward to doing that with you after the grueling work of holy week.

I suspect her ability to love choir directing came from her experiences at Millikin University. Again, she writes:

[My] first semester [at MU] revealed a deep love for choral music. Choir rehearsal became the one singing experience that was enjoyable. Other singers complained about having to go to choir rehearsal, or the director, or the songs they didn't like. I may have complained about the director, but I loved it anyway. I never missed rehearsal, and typically came early. When in the group, all that self-doubt would drip away, and I could sing out with confidence. I came to realize that even if I didn't have the strongest voice, I did have strong musical skills. I could feel the others in my section listening to me when we were sight-reading new pieces.

My strongest memories from high school and seminary are getting to stand next to Resa and sing: I could lean into her, hear her instincts and follow them. She possessed the ability to lead by being a member of a group and infusing that group with her love for their common task. She drew strength from that safety and used it to make the group stronger, deeper, richer. This made her a natural choice to be president of her music sorority SAI in her final year at MU because she was among her sisters. This made her a great camp counselor and music teacher, especially with little kids, because she sought out the way to be part of their group and make their experience richer. This made her a fun sister, friend, teacher, godmother, aunt, and companion because we could all lean into her joy and trust her to help us find our voice.

In these last months she took being in the hospital to new heights: who else could go into the hospital telling everyone she was fine, be in a medically induced coma, and have the loudest, busiest, most musical and prayerful entourage the staff at Unity hospital had ever had. And who else could inspire such devotion from a man she was just beginning to know that he became the official “welcome to Resa’s room” greeter.

In one Lenten blog post Resa reflected on a reading of Genesis 45:4-8 where Joseph comforts his brothers, who sold him into slavery and have now come to Egypt to escape famine, by saying: “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” Resa wrote:

“What struck me is that after all the hardships Joseph endured [how would I react if my sisters sold me into slavery?], he could discern that his suffering had purpose…I’ve been told often enough…to just “hang in there,” with regards to certain struggles in my life. We none of us can know why certain burdens are given us to bear, but they are the crucible in which God does great things, so I’m told…But what is really hard… is the idea that my struggles may have actually very little to do with me. Joseph realized his suffering’s purpose was to save his people from starvation. In other words – it was all well and good when I thought my suffering was ‘good for me,’ but I don’t think I care to suffer because it might be good for somebody else, selfish thing that I am. I guess I was ignoring the whole denying myself part of Christ’s instructions to take up my cross and follow him.”

We none of us can know how Resa’s journey through the valley of the shadow of death changed her for her salvation. But, I think we all see how her struggle helped save us and we have great hope that she is praying for us now, that somehow the pain of her being separated from us will change us, make us richer, deeper, fuller, more loving and compassionate people. So there she goes again, our dear sweet Resa, in her illness and death she is taking the experience, amplifying it, and making it richer for all of us.

October 11, 1978 – January 3, 2010

Resa was in good health when she succumbed to ARDS, a complication of H1N1, Influenza A, and Pneumonia at the age of 31.

Survived by parents: Very Rev. Fr. James & Linda Ellison; siblings: Rachel (Clark) Leake, Sallie (James) LaRocco, Suzanna & Mary Ellison; aspiring fiancé, Peter Rhudy; nieces & nephews: Cody, Sofia & Giada LaRocco, & Matea Cunningham; aunts & uncles: Mark (Barbara) Thomas, Melodie (William) Janes, Mary (Joseph) Bensman; 3 Godchildren; other relatives & dear friends.

Resa went through the Unit Seven School System in Tolono, IL, graduated with honors from Unity High School in 1996, graduated cum laude from Millikin University School of Music and cum laude from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in 2003.

She was a member of SAI & ISOCM, served as Youth Director at St. George Orthodox Church in Houston, TX and Camp Counselor and program director at Antiochian Village. Resa was involved in many theatrical productions including Unity High School, Villa Grove Community Theatre, the inaugural production of CUTC’s "Music Man" and the 10th anniversary production of the same.

She moved to Minneapolis to serve as the Choir Director for St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral and had dreams of returning to St. Vladimir’s Seminary to teach. She was loved among MEOCCA summer campers.


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