Descendants carry on tradition of giving

Growing up in a large family in Mannington, West Virginia, Jim Mills, MD, learned about the value of helping your neighbors and supporting your community from his beloved grandparents, Samuel N. “Doc” Elliott, Sr. and Florence Ryan “Mom” Elliott.

Dr. Mills’ grandfather moved to Mannington in 1892 at the age of 12. Elliott, nicknamed after an uncle who was a physician, passed away at the age of 107 and “Mom” passed away at the age of 92. After over a century of building community relationships, the family members are deeply rooted to their neighbors.

“Mannington was, and still is, a very close-knit community,” Mills, WVU Assistant Professor of Medicine, said. “‘Mom’ Elliott was very active in her church and volunteered countless hours working at the church. My grandparents led by example.” Mills and his sister, Jennifer Mills Cardwell, WVU School of Medicine Class of 1998, heard the story from their mother many times about how Mom and Doc would feed the hungry during the Depression – even when they had little for themselves and their own children. “From them, we learned about the importance of caring for others even when you have little for yourself,” Mills said.

Continuing the tradition

The Elliotts ingrained in their descendants the desire to take care of each other and to bond with their community. To honor the memory of their grandparents, Mills and his extended family have chosen to serve their fellow community members through volunteerism or through their careers in healthcare. The Elliott descendants have pursued careers as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, radiation therapists, and administrative staff at WVU Healthcare and in other parts of West Virginia.

From a very early age, Mills knew he wanted to be a doctor. He pursued his dream and went continuously through school to obtain his medical degree from the WVU School of Medicine in 1991. Mills returned to his alma mater in August 2013 to teach as an assistant professor. He continues to improve the health of West Virginians as a non-invasive cardiologist at the WVU Heart Institute.

Some of Mills’ other family members who were also inspired to pursue healthcare careers include Mills’ cousin Jane Antulov, a registered respiratory therapist and patient access manager at WVU Healthcare. Antulov was influenced to choose respiratory therapy, as well as obtain two master’s degrees, by her aunt, Mary “Boots” Elliott McLain, who decided to go back to school in her 50s to become a nurse.

“I absolutely love what I do,” Antulov said. “It’s a wonderful way to give back to the community and help others.”

Antulov also enjoys buying toys the day after Thanksgiving to donate to children who are in need for Christmas presents. “It’s all about community,” she said. “We learned this from our grandparents, who were so deeply focused on community. Even if someone wasn’t family, if they were at our table, they were family.”

Seeing her mother’s experience as a nurse, especially the continued reward of helping others, Mills’ cousin, Ann Marie Murray, MD, knew a career in healthcare was the perfect fit for her, too. She is currently a neurology resident at WVU Healthcare.

“Practicing at the University hospital, we see patients from all over the region, and have a chance to provide a great service to the state,” Dr. Murray said. “Given West Virginia’s strong sense of community, even strangers feel like friends, not to mention how often I will actually know the family of a patient, or they will know mine. The interaction becomes personal, which is a wonderful asset in building the doctor-patient relationship.”

Descendants of "Mom" and "Doc" Elliott of Mannington, West Virginia, currently affiliated with WVU and WVU Healthcare: (front row) Martha West, WVU general studies freshman; Ann Marie Murray, WVU neurology resident; Sadie Lowe, WVU exercise physiology student; Patricia Jenkins, WVU Healthcare radiation therapist; and Mary West, WVU Healthcare nurse; (back row) Christopher Powell, lab manager at WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design; Jane Antulov, WVU Healthcare patient access manager; Jim Mills, assistant professor in the WVU School of Medicine and cardiologist at the WVU Heart Institute. Not pictured: Dawn West, graduate studies.

Mills’ cousin, Sadie Lowe, an exercise physiology student at WVU, experienced a knee injury when she was a sophomore in high school. She spent six weeks in physical therapy for the injury. Though it was demanding, painful work at times, the physical therapists were an inspiration to Lowe with their positivity and motivation. Eventually, Lowe was able to complete tryouts for her high school soccer team.

“After the help I received after my injury, I knew I wanted to help people the same way,” Lowe said.

Mills is proud of the many diverse ways in which his family contributes some good to the world through their careers and volunteerism. Exemplifying this philosophy, the Elliott family established the S.N. “Doc” and Florence Elliott Scholarship in 1983. Given each year to a senior at North Marion High School, the scholarship provides funds for hard-working students who understand the importance of family and community. Since its inception, the scholarship has provided over $10,000.

“Our family has always believed in giving back to our community and state,” Mills said. “The greatest resource of West Virginia is not coal, oil, or gas. It is her children.”

Feeding the hungry

Registered pharmacist Mark Morris and his wife, Colleen, spend much of their free time making sure people in Mannington don’t go hungry. Cousins of Mills, they are involved in several organizations in the Mannington area that serve children and adults who are not getting enough to eat, including Help Us Stop Hunger (HUSH) and Community Reaching Out Serving Soup (CROSS). Colleen is also the director of the Mannington Food Pantry.

Morris, a 1980 graduate of the WVU School of Pharmacy, said, “I became involved in these programs through my wife, and you start helping out, and you see how much of a need these services fill in the community.”

Children, who may have previously gone without food on weekends away from school, are benefiting from Mark’s and Colleen’s work in the HUSH program, which started in 2010. HUSH provides backpacks of food to school children to take home with them on Fridays and serves about 90 children each week. Backpacks contain kid-friendly, non-cook items like crackers, cereal, cookies, juice, and fruit cups.

The CROSS program also provides hot meals to adults and children every Wednesday and serves more than 50 people a week and about 90 people in the summer, when more children attend.

While the HUSH and CROSS programs do receive some grant funding from the George W. Bowers Family Charitable Trust and United Way of Marion County, Colleen is proud to say that the majority of food and supplies come from private donations.