Remembering J. Ellsworth Kalas

November 16th, 2015
J. Ellsworth Kalas (1923-2015)

Ellsworth Kalas was one of the good ones.

He was warm, wonderful, a pleasure to hear from; a pleasure to be around. As his editor, I knew it was going to be a good day when I saw an email from him, received a note from him, got a call from him. It was always a good day when contacting him was on my to-do list — as it was on Opening Day of the baseball season every year.

Ellsworth had written curriculum for Graded Press, but his first book wasn’t published until he was 65 years young. It was Parables from the Back Side, and it has never been out of print. Before the term bucket list was coined, Ellsworth told me that he had always hoped (ever humble, he hoped — not planned) to have a book published, but he had never had time to pursue it. Once he got around to writing, though, he embraced it fully, and his forthcoming Abingdon Press book, The Story Continues, is in production as we speak.

The idea for one of his best-selling books came from his experience with his first Bible. He received it when he turned 10, and he told himself he needed to read the whole thing and that he would do so before his next birthday. So he did, and 365 Days from Genesis through Revelation helps others complete this goal and offers daily support in that effort.

At Abingdon Press and Cokesbury, we receive notes from readers every time we publish something with Ellsworth’s name on it. Fans of his “back side” books couldn’t get enough of him. They wanted more and more — sometimes suggesting topics that were humorous to envision (e.g., John Wesley from the back side!). We had a good laugh about those. His love for his faith, for his subject matter, and for his readers was evident in all his works. A consummate teacher, he used the teaching/learning metaphor in a book called If Experience Is Such a Good Teacher, Why Do I Keep Repeating the Course? His hundreds of thousands of readers are grateful that his words will live on to enrich our faith and our lives for years to come.

At the time of the recession, I received an email from Ellsworth. He had been a partner in our publishing ministry for many years, he said, and the fruits of his writing had been bountiful. He knew the recession had hit us hard; and as a partner, he thought it only right that he should share in that as well. He offered to take a lower royalty on his books. I have worked with hundreds of authors in my career, and that was the first and only time an author has ever suggested anything remotely like that. It’s probably the last time, too.

Ellsworth embodied faith in exemplary ways, hope to the fullest, and love in abundance. It was a privilege to work with him for more than 25 years. He will be missed, but he is with us. And we will see him again. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. Alleluia. 

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