Born and raised in Oakland, California, Eleanor trained for a nursing career at the University of California, Berkeley, leading to her work as public health nurse in Santa Rosa. It was there that she met and married Lyle G. Reynolds, a high school teacher. In 1947, they moved to Santa Barbara, where Lyle became a professor of Health Education at UCSB and, ultimately, the dean of students. They were married for 65 years until Lyle’s death in 2006.
Though a mother to eight children, she still found time for her many activist roles in Santa Barbara life. She volunteered for years with the American Red Cross and Meals on Wheels, and served on the boards of the Senior Center of Santa Barbara and of the Long Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman Program of Santa Barbara. Her passion was to assist seniors with housing and health. Laguna Cottages, subsidized housing for seniors, was the greatest prize among her accomplishments.
The ombudsmen (and women) advocate for residents of nursing homes and board-and-care homes. “Ombudsman” is a Scandinavian phrase, and as Eleanor said, it is frequently mispronounced. Trained volunteers visited local nursing facilities to be on the lookout for physical, mental, or psychological abuse of residents. As advocates, they would go into nursing homes at any time, still maintaining good relationships with the nursing facilities. The local original private program “grew and grew and grew” and then became state mandated, working cooperatively with legal services, licensing boards, Social Security, Medicare, acute-care hospitals, families of residents, and administration and staff.
Even after 17 years of continual volunteering, Eleanor said she was not tired of her duties. “I love old people,” she said. “I trained in a Catholic hospital. I remember, even then, I loved old people. They have so much experience. And so much patience.” She knew at the age of 12 that she wanted to be a nurse. “It must be a need in me,” she said. “I always wanted to help people, and it felt good being helpful.”
Eleanor always led an active lifestyle. She was awarded Mother of the Year in 1986 by the Santa Barbara News-Press. All the children learned to play tennis, coached by both Eleanor and Lyle; therefore many hours were spent as a family on the courts. She played into her eighties. Her last years playing tennis were at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club, where Eleanor and Lyle both were charter members. In the early days, she and Lyle enjoyed badminton tournaments. The YMCA was a daily part of their lives for many years; she made weekly visits to the YMCA for senior fitness classes well into her eighties. Eleanor loved to read and belonged to a book group for many years, which provided her much enjoyment. Connections made there gave her lifelong friendships.
Eleanor is survived by her sister Barbara Milliff of Davis, California; eight children, Sally McElravey (Jack), Richard (CJ), Susan, Bill (Holly), Barbara, Karen Novak (Greg), Robert (Barbara), and Maryanne Maynard (Paul); seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and many nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Eleanor attracted many people with her ready laugh, her great joy of life, her interest in others and their lives, and her empathy for those in need. She will be greatly missed by all of her family and numerous friends.
A Mass will be celebrated Friday, November 30, at 10 a.m. in the Blessed Sacrament chapel at Saint Barbara Parish, Santa Barbara Mission.
A celebration of her life will be held Saturday, December 1, 2 p.m., at the Mosher Alumni House, UCSB. Any questions, please contact Israel Velazquez at McDermott-Crockett Mortuary.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Santa Barbara Braille Institute or Laguna Cottages for Seniors of Santa Barbara.