Ellis Ginsberg, a longtime volunteer and senior-programming pioneer at the William Way LGBT Community Center, died Aug. 27. He was 80.
Ginsberg was a native Philadelphian, living most of his life in Rittenhouse Square.
A 1949 graduate of Central High School, Ginsberg later enlisted in the U.S. Army. After that, he spent most of his career working in New York City, a job to which he commuted from Philadelphia every day.
Ginsberg was involved in the center’s “40+ Club” throughout the 1990s and, in 2001, conceived of the idea for Silver Foxes, a monthly meetup group for LGBT seniors.
“Ellis had an unstoppable personality — if he wanted something to happen, he urged and cajoled until it was brought into being,” said center executive director Chris Bartlett. “We have Ellis to thank as one of the key visionaries who made senior programs happen at the William Way.”
Last month, Ginsberg was presented with a plaque commemorating the 10th anniversary of the group.
Jim Gallagher, who, along with Betty Long, helped get the organization off the ground, said Ginsberg was eager for the potential of Silver Foxes since the beginning.
“He called me one day and said, ‘You know what, there’s really no place for older gay people to go and hang around, so we should start our own organization at William Way,’” Gallagher recalled. “He was always behind it in the past 10 years. It was his baby because he absolutely loved working with seniors and he just loved the William Way.”
In addition to his work on senior programming, Ginsberg founded the center’s Party Bridge group and volunteered at the front desk on Saturday mornings.
“Ellis and I had a lot of fun working on the weekends together,” said Andrea Childs, the center’s front-desk coordinator. “He loved the community center and viewed it as his second home, and he wanted to make sure that everyone else felt welcome too.”
Beyond investing his time in the center, Ginsberg also made monetary contributions, including a $10,000 gift to kickstart the campaign for the center’s endowment, which has since grown to $110,000.
“Ellis’ decision to make a significant gift to inaugurate our endowment showed that he believed in the center’s value to our community well into the future,” said center board treasurer the Hon. Ann Butchart.
Gallagher said Ginsberg was a born leader whose work made a lasting impact both in the community center and his large circle of friends, who came together to celebrate his 80th birthday in July.
“He was a great organizer, a perfectionist,” Gallagher said. “When he walked into a room, he just made everyone happy — he knew everyone and he wasn’t someone to ever sit alone. With our group he was like our general, our leader. And he was so proud of who he was. He was always out and I think that made him a great gay icon and role model to so many people.”
Memorial contributions can be made to the William Way LGBT Community Center, Ellis Ginsberg Endowment Fund, 1315 Spruce St., Philadelphia, PA 19107.
A memorial will be held for Ginsberg at the center at 3 p.m. Sept. 17.
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].