In Loving Memory
Barbara was born June 26, 1951 to Oliver (Bud) and Norma Hillberg. She grew up in Walnut Creek with her sister, Carol Ann, and her two brothers, David and Rodger. She spent many enjoyable holidays and summers in Richvale with her grandmother, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
Barbara was an excellent singer and was a member of Ygnacio Valley High’s award winning Madrigal Singers. After graduating from high school she attended Chico State University where she participated in the choir while earning a degree in Early Childhood Development Education.
Barbara worked for a preschool in Roseville before returning to Chico to start Children’s World, a preschool and daycare center. The facility rented space from Chapman School and provided services for children of low income families. She served as director and head teacher until 1977 when she took leave from teaching to raise her three daughters.
She married Guerdon Ely in 1977 and was the mother to three beautiful daughters – Sarah, Anna, and Hillary. Her calm nature and patient character, which made her an outstanding teacher, also made her an excellent mother. Her home always looked more like a preschool than a regular house. Instead of a coffee table in the middle of the living room there was usually a plastic kiddie pool filled with rice and sand toys. During this time she taught a class for new mothers at a junior college, was a volunteer Sunday School teacher, and an invaluable information source for mothers in the various “Moms” groups she belonged to.
In 1997 she returned to teaching at Chico Country Day School. Some things people at the school remember about Barbara was that she always involved the kids when it was her turn to host the start of the morning as they gathered for flag salute. She, and her class, ran a sock drive every Christmas for the homeless. And the highlight of 3rd grade was the “Box City” when every student got a big appliance box to decorate for their place of employment in the box city – and somehow it all fit inside the classroom. Kids could not wait to come to 3rd grade. Neither could her husband because they would go “dumpster diving” together, behind appliance stores, looking for boxes.
Staff at Chico Country Day School remember Barbara’s big heart. She mentored young teachers and came alongside them to ensure they found success quickly. She was a confidante that fellow teachers knew they could approach for wisdom and understanding without judgement or fear of their concerns being made public. She was always a trusted friend. She had a deep affection for children and those less fortunate. And her passion for teaching was unmatched.
Barbara dedicated her life to supporting children and families as a friend, a teacher, and a volunteer. She was always there in times of need and crisis. One widowed father remembers the times she would spend with his two-year-old son who had undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome. She was able to form an attachment with him when no one else could and when he most needed it. Another young mother, who was having seizures, remembers Barb sitting with her or caring for her children, so her husband could work. She was a volunteer for Young Lives, The Good News Club, The Women’s Resource Clinic, Church Day Camps, and countless other organization. In addition, she was a founding member of The Chico Children’s Museum.
Even in the face of death she was calm, sweet, and even funny. She was truly a loving person to the core. She gave her family a tremendous example of how to live and how to die. She was totally transparent and not the least bit self-conscious. She did not beat herself up over her own shortcomings and was gracious and forgiving toward others. She inspired her family and friends to be better. She was truly the nicest person you could ever want to meet.
Barbara is home with Jesus but she will be missed by her family, especially by her 10 grandchildren whom she adored – Alyson, Addison, Dominic, Olivia, Audrey, Sally, Katherine, William, Hannah, and Emma.
If you would like to participate in carrying on her legacy you can contribute to the Barbara Ely Memorial Fund for Children.
Checks can be sent to:
Barbara Ely Memorial Fund for Children
North Valley Community Foundation
1811 Concord Avenue, Suite 220
Chico, CA 95928
Or to learn more about the fund or to donate online go to: