Palo Alto Community Fund (PACF) has gratefully accepted a gift to our Endowment Fund of $718,498 from the estate of Leonard (1923–2011) and Shirley Ely (1927–2022).
Leonard and Shirley were loved for their largesse, and in particular for their generosity to local causes—from the Boy Scouts to Stanford University—they were key leaders in the formative years of the Palo Alto Community Fund and dedicated much of their lives to volunteering and supporting nonprofit organizations. Leonard was on the board of more than 30 local organizations, and Shirley volunteered her time to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital through the Allied Arts Guild, the Red Cross, the Peninsula Ball for the benefit of Peninsula Family Service, and Planned Parenthood.
Both had strong roots in the Bay Area, and Leonard, in particular, to Palo Alto. His father was the first professor of orthopedics at Stanford Medical School, and his grandfather, Ray Lyman Wilbur, served as the University’s third President. He attended Palo Alto High School, and later Stanford University, where he met Shirley in 1945.
From the Ely Family: In Conversation with Len and Maggie
We had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Leonard and Shirley’s children, Len Ely and Maggie Ely Pringle Grauer, about their parents’ giving legacy and their philosophy of giving back to their community.
How long has your family been in Palo Alto? What did they love about our community?
Our great-grandfather, Ray Lyman Wilbur, came to Palo Alto in 1891 to join one of the first classes at Stanford. After graduating, he joined the faculty at Stanford, married, and had four children, one being dad’s mother and our grandmother, Jessica Wilbur Ely.
Dad was born in Palo Alto and grew up on Bryant Street. First at 1010 Bryant Street in Professorville, and then in the house that his parents built at 2161 Bryant Street. Dad later purchased the family home from his siblings, and this is where we had the good fortune to grow up.
Mom often recalled the first time she visited the house where she was to live for most of her life. At that time, the house was always open to friends and family, and someone even had special stationery made for the “Ely Hotel.” After Mom and Dad were married, they lived for a short time in Menlo Park while Dad was at business school, and then the East Bay where Dad worked with our grandfather in the automobile business. They were delighted to move back to Palo Alto when an opportunity arose for Dad to co-own an automobile dealership in Redwood City. Again, they rented a home on Bryant Street in South Palo Alto prior to purchasing the family home in 1957. They often said that they lived in the “best place on earth.” They traveled extensively, and this was always their refrain when they returned home.
Mom and Dad particularly enjoyed being close to Stanford University and were very involved in both the Stanford and Palo Alto communities. Dad had been a Boy Scout in Troop 57 and stayed very involved when Len joined the same troop. Mom was a Cub Scout leader and we both remember the fun activities that were planned in our backyard. That continuity of commitment was important to Mom and Dad and they were great examples of how that makes a difference in a community. They worked together over the years to encourage everyone in the city to get involved in some way to make the community stronger.
How did your parents meet?
Dad joined the Air Force when he was 18 and was sent to San Jose State and the University of Minnesota as part of his training. He was a pilot flying over Japan during the war and returned to finish his undergraduate degree at Stanford. Mom graduated from Berkeley High School and came across the Bay to attend Stanford as a freshman. She insisted on driving herself over to move into the dorm as she was quite independent, but she said later that she wished that she had had her parents there when she arrived on campus! One would not have imagined that at 5’2” tall she would have chosen to join the Stanford Football Team, but she did and that is where she met a handsome young man who was on the sidelines of one of her games when she was clipped. Dad came out to help her up and that was the start of their long life together. According to Dad, it was their mothers who determined that they should marry, but it is clear that they agreed!
Your father, Leonard, was the second president of PACF, and one of the very early board members. What were his hopes for the community fund?
We believe that Dad, along with others in the Palo Alto area, recognized the opportunity available for the community as a whole to come together to support the outstanding nonprofits that address a variety of critical needs throughout the local area.
Mom and Dad were strong believers in the power of building and maintaining a strong Endowment Fund for the long-term benefit of organizations and those that they serve. Much of Dad’s work with PACF, as well as many of the organizations he supported, was focused on helping donors appreciate the need for endowed funds that would help grow the annual and long-term support that could be offered to the community.
Both your parents were involved in many local causes. As are the two of you. What lessons do you think your mother and father passed on to you about giving back to the community?
Dad often said, “we make a living out of what we earn, but a life out of what we give.” Mom and Dad lived that creed both in their family and community lives. We watched them focus their energies on working hard in order to give us the best possible lives and, as they were able, working hard to be sure that others had as much opportunity to succeed as possible. It was clear that they enjoyed and valued their work, both professional and volunteer. As we grew older, they encouraged us to get involved at school and later in our communities, and we have both benefited from that advice. We hope to pass that same message on to our children.
The El Palo Alto Legacy Circle is a planned giving society that allows the Palo Alto Community Fund to continue supporting our evolving community for generations to come. To learn more about how to bequeath a gift and about members of the El Palo Alto Legacy Circle here.