Madison - Jonathan Pell Ela died at home Wednesday, October 31st. The cause of death was metastatic lung cancer.
Born in New York City, October 7, 1945, Jonathan was brought to Madison six weeks later by his returning parents Janet and Walter Ela. He always considered himself a native Madisonian. Educated in Madison public schools, he graduated from West High in 1963. Friendships forged during those years remain strong.
In 1967 Jonathan received a Bachelor of Arts Degree cum laude in Government from Harvard University. His career in conservation and environmental protection started in 1968 when he went to work for Senator Gaylord Nelson, a strong mentor. A year later he began his long association with the Sierra Club, the national conservation organization founded by John Muir in 1892.
Jonathan served the Club in both staff and volunteer positions. He was the Executive Director's Assistant for Conservation and the first Midwest Representative, opening the Midwest office in 1971 to strengthen the Club's regional presence. He also served as a Specialist on the Mississippi River. His volunteer work began in 1999 and was highlighted by two roles: serving on the Club's Political Committee (both as a member and as Chair) helping to shape and guide the organization's electoral political program; and his election to the national Board of Directors, of which he was an active member at the time of his death.
Jonathan felt privileged to have aided some notable electoral successes, and to have played a role in conservation achievements ranging from protection of Alaska lands to the California Redwoods, the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, Lake Superior's Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and the Cuyahoga River Valley in Ohio. He worked for landmark environmental legislative initiatives, including passage of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. He authored a Sierra Club book titled The Faces of the Great Lakes, drawing attention to the earth's largest fresh water resource and its challenges. In 2009 Jonathan received the Sierra Club's William E. Colby Award for his work in building the Club's successful Political Program.
In 1982 Jonathan married co-worker, Patricia Stocking, and in 1983 they interrupted their careers to begin 10 years of travel, exploration, reading and learning, sailing on the Loon from Door County to the island countries of the Caribbean and on to Venezuela. In 1988 they continued their travels in a pickup camper, spending the majority of their time investigating Wisconsin, and the rest in other parts of the U.S. In 1993 they returned to Madison and resumed their careers in conservation, she with The Nature Conservancy and he with the Sierra Club.
In 2003 Jonathan was honored to be appointed by Governor James Doyle to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, which establishes policy and enacts administrative law for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He served as a member for 8 years and was elected Chair by his fellow members in January 2010. In addition to providing state protection and public access to many more acres of wildlife habitat, special accomplishments included passage of an Administrative Rule reducing atmospheric mercury emissions, and passage of the nation's strongest Administrative Rule limiting phosphorus pollution of the state's waters.
To everything he touched Jonathan brought his intelligence and analytical skills, his fairness and ability to look at all sides of an issue, his warmth and generosity of spirit, and his deeply ingrained sense of humor. He leaves a legacy of conservation and environmental accomplishment, and all the people whom he has mentored, trained, influenced, worked with, and befriended along his path. Some of us were privileged to meet his unfettered imp of mischief. He will be greatly missed.
Jonathan is survived by his wife, Patricia Stocking; stepdaughter, Sara Record Frings (Gary); stepson, Sam Record (Lisa Zeidenberg); three step grandsons, Austin Frings, Gavin Frings and Toby Record; his brother, Stephen Ela; two nephews, Jed Ela (Nazgol Ghandnoosh) and Nate Ela (Meghan Morris); and many Ela cousins, including the "cottage cousins" Kate Ela McMahan (Tom) and Tom Ela (Sue) and the next generation, Erin McMahan, Scott McMahan, Julia Ela, John Ela and Annie Ela. Jonathan was preceded in death by his father, Walter Pell Ela and his mother, Janet Smith Ela.
Donations in honor of Jonathan can be sent to: Sierra Club, 85 Second Street #2, San Francisco CA 94105; or to Sierra Club Foundation at the same address; or to the local chapter at Jonathan Ela Activist Fund, Sierra Club, John Muir Chapter, 222 S. Hamilton St. Suite 1, Madison WI 53703; or to the land trust or conservation organization of your choice.
Memorial celebrations will be scheduled at a later date.
I haven't seen Jonathan since high school but am not surprised to read about his successful life. I admired him then and even more so now. I am an active Sierra Club member in the northeast and feel somehow reconnected even in his passing. He was an amazing person and my sincere condolences to his family
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