Rehoboth’s Jim Ellison: Protect and serve

Retired architect puts skills to work on city buildings, bike paths
July 8, 2014

It's the ‘stache.

It gives Jim Ellison the air of an old gunfighter, or a retired member of the 1970s Oakland A’s. In fact, it was in 1971 that Ellison first began growing it.

“It came in very quickly,” he said.

“I wish I could move some of it here,” he joked, pointing to his bald head. “My wife threatens divorce if I get rid of it.”

Ellison spent his professional career, 33 years, as an architect, but not your conventional sit-at-your-desk-and-draw-buildings architect. Ellison spent his career in Washington, D.C., first as part of the executive staff of the American Institute of Architects, going around the country teaching architecture education, and then as a special assistant to the architect at the U.S. Capitol. In this capacity, he helped maintain not only the Capitol building, but the House and Senate buildings and the U.S. Supreme Court building as well.

Ellison and his wife, Carole, have been coming to Rehoboth since the 1970s. They became full-time residents when Ellison retired from his full-time career in 2001. Ellison has found a new career volunteering for committees in Rehoboth, bicycling and serving as chair of Rehoboth Art League’s buildings and grounds committee.

In Rehoboth, Ellison is politically active, having supported Mayor Sam Cooper for years. Ellison said he and Carole became active when they began to see too much development in Rehoboth in the early-to-mid 2000s, a situation they felt was threatening the city's small town charm.

“We consider it important. Mainly around trying to make sure the legacy we have there of buildings and the town itself, the small scale, the atmosphere we think it important. We want to make sure we protect that,” Ellison said.

As a volunteer, Ellison is putting his career experience as an architect to good use on Rehoboth’s City Hall Master Plan Task Force, which has spent nearly two years working on plans to build a new City Hall. Ellison said working at the U.S. Capitol, where he frequently was involved in multimillion dollar projects, has served him well on the City Hall project, which has an estimated cost of $15 million. Another similarity, he said, was the structure of the City Hall task force, which has used an architectural team, with a separate construction management team providing costs estimates, a style of project management Ellison working in often at the U.S. Capitol.

Ellison, tall, thin and fit,  is also an avid biker.

“There’s no particular story there. It’s fun, and down here, there are so many wonderful places to bike,” he said. “It’s just something one naturally does here, because it is so easy.”

Ellison’s love of biking led him to his second committee assignment on the Streets and Transportation Committee, where, among other things, he helped work on the city’s bicycle map.

Recently, Ellison became a member of the board at the Rehoboth Art League, where he helps lead a committee that works to preserve the art league’s historic structures.

“We have spent a lot of time at the art league, and we care a great deal about that. The buildings and grounds committee is really responsible for trying to make sure we do the right kinds of things to preserve the buildings and make them as useful as we can to the art league,” he said.

A native of Salt Lake City, Ellison is a graduate of Stanford University and has a second degree in architecture from the University of Utah. Still, it is Rehoboth he calls home today.

“It has a lovely, small scale. It’s walkable. The Boardwalk is terrific. It’s a credit to the mayors over the years that we haven’t turned out like Ocean City, for example, where the sun disappears around noon over the high-rise buildings. The place has sincere personality. We just love it,” Ellison said.