A Life Lived: Iris Ellis’ roots were planted deep in local history

Published 1:10 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Iris Jenkins Ellis grew up on Race Street, the daughter of Stover and Jennie Jenkins. When she married Jack Ellis, she raised her two daughters and lived the rest of her life on Race Street, in a house that was next door to her parents. Albeit, she did spend the last months of her life in a local nursing home.
Iris was the youngest of 11 children and the last remaining of the children. She died August 9 at the age of 99. She outlived both of her daughters, Nancy, who died almost three years ago, and Barbara, who died last year. She is survived by her son-in-law, Mike Melton, who was Barbara’s husband, and two grandsons, Vance and David Melton.
Iris’ roots went deep in local history.
Her father, Stover Jenkins, was the son of Capt. David B. Jenkins, a captain in the Union Army, and the first volunteer from Carter County. Iris’ grandmother, Evaline S. Jenkins, was the granddaughter of Daniel and Phoebe Ward Stover. The Stovers and Wards were pioneer families of Tennessee.
Daniel Stover and Isaac Lincoln, uncle of Abraham Lincoln, married sisters. The Stovers were also connected with Andrew Johnson by marriage. And, some historians say Abraham Lincoln visited in the home of Capt. Jenkins and his wife on Race Street.
Iris’ father, Stover Jenkins, was a former county judge and served as a magistrate for many years. He was also a local businessman, involved in real estate and insurance.
Iris also left some footprints in local history as she was one of 57 women from Carter County to serve in the military during World War II. She served from 1944-1946 with the U.S. Navy, known as the WAVES at that time. Most of her military tour was spent in San Diego, where she worked in communications.
“Iris was very proud of her military service and of being a WWII Navy veteran,” said her son-in-law, Mike. She also would have been proud of her military funeral Sunday — all patriotic hymns and a U.S. Navy Honor Guard at the graveside service, which performed TAPS and did the flag ceremony.”
Iris worked as office manager for Russ Swanay when he open his real estate office in Elizabethton. “She was a wonderful person and helped Randall (Birchfield) and me tremendously as we were just starting out in the business. She told me that her parents were both 50 years old when she was born in 1923. Iris’ husband, Jack, died at an early age leaving her with two young girls to raise,” Swanay shared.
“Iris was very loyal to me, but the day she got her Social Security, she said, ‘I’m outta here,’” Swanay said with a chuckle.
Iris had some good retirement years. She joined the Elizabethton Senior Center and was very active in that group. For many, many years she was a member of Oak Street Baptist Church, where her husband, Jack, was a deacon. In her last years when she was able to attend church, she went to Immanuel with her daughter, Nancy. “Her church family at Oak Street kept her strong,” said Mike.
Swanay shared that Iris loved UT football. Her nephew, Danny “Pert” Jenkins, played for U-T, and at that time she went to all the home games. Other times she watched the games on TV.
“She was also a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat,” Russ shared about Iris. “She was a good homemaker and mother. I remember her meals were very healthy, at least hers were. She mainly ate salads, fruits and fish,” he recalled.
Iris’s son-in-law said she also enjoyed working in her yard and flowers.
Russ had nothing but praise for Mike and his devotion to Iris’ care after the death of her daughters. “He saw that she got the best of care and was there for her,” said Russ.
“She was still a witty person, and, although she had dementia, she would remember things I’d bring up during her most alert times,” Mike said.
In addition to her son-in-law and two grandsons, she leaves behind several nephews and nieces and a lot of memories as well as a rich family heritage. “She loved her country, Elizabethton, her family, her church, and her friends on Race Street. She was a wonderful person,” shared Mike.

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