September 17, 1946–December 16, 2022
Ann Arbor, Michigan 

Liz Elling, environmental activist, journalist, Beatrix Potter impersonator, devoted wife, empowering mother, beloved grandmother, aunt, and deepest friend to many, died peacefully with Gary, her soulmate husband of 55 years, holding her hand. While Alzheimer’s stole many things, it could not dim the light of her positive impact on environmental issues and beloved community of friends and family. 

Liz was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where she was associate editor of her high school newspaper in addition to holding leadership positions in the myriad clubs and organizations she was involved with in the Soo. She earned a Regents scholarship to the University of Michigan, where she completed a BA in journalism. Liz met Gary in a psychology class in Angell Hall their sophomore year and they married in spring of ’67. Upon graduating, Liz landed a job at the Ann Arbor News, as their first female Business Editor. After the birth of their children, Kirsten and Karin, Liz focused her energies on being an extraordinary mother. The importance of the natural world, the power of friendship, and how to love deeply are life lessons we cherish from Mom.

After returning to the workforce, Liz drew inspiration from the life of Beatrix Potter, especially Potter’s land conservation efforts, and returned to the U of M to earn a master’s degree in Environmental Education from SNRE (now SEAS) in ’93. While in graduate school, she cofounded Friends of Nichols Arboretum, and post-graduation she was instrumental in planning the Arb’s first Peony Garden Party and moving the historic house that became the Reader Environmental Education Center to its current location. She was thrilled to leverage her degree as environmental educator at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, as well as serving as a member of Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy board of directors; Ann Arbor Public Schools Environmental Education Endowment; Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum Director’s Advisory committee; and Ecology Center board. Liz had a gift for channeling her passion into action, and poured energy into realizing her vision of two epic swims to raise awareness around water quality issues. During her first 100-mile swim, in 2001, she swam 10 miles a day for 10 days around the coast of the Leelanau Peninsula, drawing attention to water quality issues in Lake Michigan and raising funds for the Leelanau Conservancy. She followed this up with another 100 mile swim in 2007, down the entire length of the Huron River, bringing our community together and raising significant funds for the Huron River Watershed Council.

Her contributions earned her recognition as a Finalist for the Ann Arbor News’ Citizen of the Year award in 2008, but more importantly the story of the swim continues to raise awareness of water quality issues for our youngest citizens via the retelling of this feat in the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ environmental education curriculum.

Liz was a special soul who is deeply missed by her family and friends, and we will always be inspired by her love of people and her passion for protecting the natural world. There is a bench in her honor at Matthaei’s Great Lakes Gardens with a plaque that sums her up well. It reads: “Warm and engaging, a student of nature, educator, long distance swimmer. Inspired by trees, flowers, lakes, rivers and people. She loved them all.”

Liz was predeceased by her parents (Stanley Miller and Beulah Miller Marvill) and her brothers (Henry Miller and Carl Miller). She is survived by her husband Gary Elling, daughters Kirsten Elling (Serge), Karin Elling Gardner (Kurt); grandchildren Adam Elling Gardner, Anna Elling Gardner, Jens Elling van der Voo; and a beloved community of friends and extended family.

Cremation has occurred and a celebration of life is being planned for this spring (date TBD). In lieu of flowers, donations in Liz’s memory can be directed to the Liz Elling Nature Education Fund at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.