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Posted on Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

Ann Arbor church honors couple for embodying the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.

By Lisa Carolin

On Monday the nation will observe the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., the prominent civil rights leader who was born Jan. 15, 1929 and assassinated April 4, 1968.

On Sunday at the Church of the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ on Independence Boulevard off Packard Street in Ann Arbor, members will celebrate the 23rd annual award of its Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. plaque for "lifetime achievements and contribution to social justice in keeping with the spirit of Dr. King." Jim and Ellie Mays of Ann Arbor, longtime members of the church, are this years honorees.

"The Mays are goodhearted people with real sympathy for people in need," said Andy Fry, chairman of the nominating committee for the plaque. "Through personality and force of will, they always sponsor fundraising activities and make you want to be a part of it. They effectively get something done for people."


Jim Mays volunteers at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Lisa Carolin | For


Ellie Mays is being honored with her husband, Jim Mays.

Lisa Carolin | For

The church's plaque is given to a person or group, and not necessarily a church member. The Mays will be honored at the church at a 10:15 a.m. ceremony Sunday for accomplishments that include volunteering in the Salvation Army food kitchen, the Ann Arbor Hunger Coalition, the Ann Arbor unit of the Buffalo Soldiers, the Council of Adoptable Children (at the U-M School of Social Work,) the Community Action Network, and RE-MEMBER, which supports the Lakota Sioux tribal council on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Mays also recently started a local chapter of Furniture for Families, an organization to provide household goods and furniture to destitute families in the area.

"Our church really encourages people to get involved," said Ellie Mays, 69. "I don't think we have a right to stop making things better. We always have time for something. I don't think you've done your bit until you die."

Ellie and Jim Mays will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary later this year. They have three adult children and three grandchildren. The couple got involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s as well as the open occupancy issue in Ann Arbor, which worked to eliminate discrimination in renting and buying homes.

"The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was someone we totally looked up to," said Jim Mays. "He enhanced my ability to not stay a poor person and to take care of my family. His nonviolent approach was hard for me because I'm not so quick to offer the other cheek."

"This award is our church honoring Dr. King's witness and how that legacy continues to live on," said Deborah Dean-Ware, who was recently hired as pastor at the Church of the Good Shepherd, which has 138 members. "When I read through all of the Mays' accomplishments, I am astounded at how active they've been, and I find myself inspired."

For Ellie Mays, "Food is my biggie. I was on the board for the Hunger Coalition when it existed and have volunteered in soup kitchens for many years and now in the Salvation Army shelter for the homeless, the Staples Center," she said. "I don't like to wait for gratification."

For Jim Mays, his work at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota is a real passion.

"You see how little these people have when you go there," he said. "I've been going several times a year for the last 10 years building bunk beds and putting them into the homes of the Lakota people. It's a lot of work and a lot of fun, and I get to see that I make a difference."

The Mays joined Church of the Good Shepherd when they were first married.

Ellie Mays said, "You join a church with people who think very much like you do, and our church has always been active in causes we support. It's a social justice ministry and that's where our love is."



Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 3:47 a.m.

This couple represents the best of humanity. They are very deserving of this recognition. If only all of us could have a small measure of their caring attitude for our fellow humans, we would live in a better world. Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Mays.