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  • David A.F. Sweet

A Tribute to Lake Forest’s Ellen Stirling

By David A. F. Sweet Even though Ellen Stirling’s grandmother launched the Lake Forest Sports Shop and her mother ran it while Ellen was growing up, the thought of one day being in charge was far from her mind – as far as London (where she lived for many years) is from Lake Forest. Yet run it she did, starting in the 1980s. Dressed elegantly as usual, Ellen presided over the women’s clothing store’s 100th anniversary in September. She looked happy as her three daughters and husband Jim joined scores of others to celebrate at the venerable shop on Market Square. But before the year ended, she passed away at 73.

Grace, elegance, friendliness -- all come to mind when remembering Ellen Stirling. Earlier this year, I enjoyed chatting with Ellen in her small office. Wearing a blouse designed by Algo Switzerland – who outfits the Queen of England and Princess Kate, among others – she told me stories about the store’s history and how important it was for her to rescue it from significant debt to help her father Volney. She paid off a large loan on her parents’ 50th anniversary, a significant point of pride. When discussing how a man entered the shop one frigid Christmas Eve and asked where the bowling balls were, she became truly animated, amazed anyone could ask that question in such a sophisticated store. Her response was swift. “That’s when I knew we had to remove the word Sports from the shop,” she said. The Lake Forest Shop attracted no more sports enthusiasts. In Lake Forest she started Shop Your Cause, where store sales aided non-profits. Her contributions to civic life stretched to Chicago, where Ellen was a member of the Women’s Board of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, founder and past vice president of the Auxiliary Board of the Art Institute of Chicago and a member of the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum. Grace, elegance, friendliness -- all come to mind when remembering Ellen. She passed away far too young from a lengthy illness, but what a meaningful, impactful life she led. This article was first published in Classic Chicago magazine.

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