Ella McKnight epitomizes the meaning of a true volunteer. A pillar of genuine love and compassion, McKnight, who is 88 years old, has been volunteering at Lewiston Elementary, in Lewiston, Utah for the past 15 years. "She even showed up the day after her husband Paul died several years ago," says Lewiston Elementary teacher Jan Tingey. "She didn't want to be alone then, so she came to be with the children."
McKnight is one of two outstanding volunteers to receive the 2010 Utah PTA Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Education. The awards ceremony, along with footage of McKnight tutoring the children, airs on KUED-Channel 7 Thursday, May 27 at 7:00 p.m.
Growing up on the family dairy farm in Cornish, Utah (where she still lives today) McKnight mastered the art of baking bread. "She makes the best bread! She used to make it for all the boys working on the farm," says McKnight's daughter-in-law Debbie McKnight. "They all couldn't wait to come in in the mornings and have some of her bread." McKnight also enjoys crocheting and quilting, with dozens of quilts crafted for births, weddings and humanitarian purposes.
McKnight wakes up daily at 5:30 a.m. to exercise, meeting friends at a gym in Preston, Utah. She volunteers four days a week at Lewiston Elementary, tutoring the children with math and reading. On Tuesdays, when she isn't volunteering at the elementary school, she volunteers at the Logan LDS Temple.
McKnight works with the children one-on-one. Her patience and humble nature brings peacefulness to the often chaotic classroom. The children respect her as a sort of grandmother figure in the school. "We have her tell stories about her childhood and the hardships she endured," says Tingey. "This fascinates the children and makes them want to become better students."
Her ability to make the most hesitant readers comfortable seems to come naturally. "Every time you lose your place or can't understand a word she would help you," says Danielle, a fourth grader at Lewiston. Older students return to the school looking for Ella, remembering the times she tutored them and the effect she had. "She judges no students on their reading or math capabilities," says Tingey. "She just loves them all the same."
At the end of class there is always a group of loving students waiting to walk her, hand-in-hand, to her car. "The custodian even made her a special parking spot close to the building so she didn't have to walk far on snowy days," says Tingey.
Before her dog, Yogi Bear, died last year it was a common sight for Cornish residents to see McKnight walking her dog and picking up the litter on the sides of streets. "She is very active," says Debbie McKnight. "I just cannot hold that girl down!" This June will be McKnight's 89th birthday.
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