Broomfield resident Ellie McKinley, 93, is known for many things including the moniker of the “godmother of open space.” With all she has accomplished, she is mostly known as a local leader for change.
Ellie McKinley moved to Broomfield in 1967 with her husband, Melvin — who worked as a certified public accountant.
Just one month prior to relocating the couple were visiting a friend who convinced Melvin McKinley to seek work in the region.
In the early 1970s Ellie McKinley jumped on board with nonprofit Broomfield FISH, which was still in its infancy. She was part of a small contingent of volunteers who answered a 24-hour hotline to aid the homeless.
“If the police picked up a homeless person or someone who needed a place — even in the middle of the night — they would call and it would be our job to go find them a place,” she said.
In those early days, Broomfield FISH partnered with the local Fire Department to store foodstuffs for distribution to those in need.
“It was a really interesting group of women that worked hard on this,” she said. “We were the only place in the state offering 24-hour service at that time.”
In the late 1980s, Ellie McKinley was also a ringleader behind the effort to preserve The Field Open Space from being turned into a housing development — which the community initially voted against.
“The City Council was turned down by the public to begin with, but not by that many votes,” Ellie McKinley said.
The narrow defeat discouraged a number of open space supporters but Ellie McKinley remained vigilant.
“A lot of those people that worked so hard on it never came back,” she said. “There were (several) of us that got together and decided that we were going to try and make it happen.”
Before long the volunteer ranks swelled and a public outreach was undertaken.
“We decided that we would knock on everybody's door, not just leave them something, but talk to them,” she said. “It just became my mission for about a year.”
The groups’ aim was to retain The Field Open Space as a nature preserve, with a subsequent vote authorizing the city to purchase the parcels to stymie potential development.
“Eventually (voters) had to approve the fact that it would remain open space, unless it was brought to the city for a vote to change it,” she said.
Because of her contribution, in 2006, Ellie McKinley won the Heart of Broomfield Award for her efforts, and in 2015 county officials named “Ellie’s Pond” in the Field Open Space in her honor.
Over the years, Ellie McKinley’s efforts to enact change in the community remained consistent. About a decade ago, Ellie McKinley also launched the Jump Start Literacy Camp after recognizing a need to refocus students at the end of summer vacation.
“I was volunteering at Birch Elementary School and I realized how unprepared many of these kids were to go back to school,” she said. “They’d forgotten half of what they knew.”
The literacy camp, which focuses on math and language, provides pupils a head start in the weeks before resuming school.
Although Ellie McKinley has focused her efforts in the community, she found a time when she needed extra support for her own family. After her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Ellie McKinley founded a Broomfield-based support group, which still meets on the first Tuesday of the month at the Community Center at 10:30 a.m.
Despite having many interests, creating groups to enjoy Broomfield’s outdoor spaces has been a focus of Ellie McKinley’s. She started the Nature Group and the Broomfield Bird Club.
Ellie McKinley harbored doubts about the latter group resonating with the community.
“I had no idea if anybody was interested in birds, but people came out of the woodwork to join,” she said.
The Broomfield Bird Club now has upwards of 100 members and holds monthly walks to spot feathered friends. Ellie McKinley said she was amazed to witness the groups’ roster expand so quickly.
The community has grown significantly since Ellie McKinley first settled in Broomfield, when the city consisted of approximately 6,000 residents.
Assuming a leadership role is something Ellie McKinley has never hesitated to take on.
“It is extremely difficult to find someone who wants to lead a group,” she said. “They'll participate, pay their dues and will enjoy being active in it, but very few people want to lead.”
After decades of organizing Ellie McKinley said the crucial element is building consensus.
“If they believe in what you believe in, then it's not that difficult,” she said. “Everything that I've done has involved a lot of people.”
Looking ahead, Ellie McKinley stressed the importance of younger generations taking charge to provide new ideas and innovations.
“We need to develop leaders in this country and not just followers,” she said.