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NIU mourns FCNS professor Ellen Parham

February 21, 2012
Ellen Parham

Ellen Parham

Ellen Speiden Parham died Monday Feb. 13, in her home. She was 73.

Parham was born July 15, 1938, in Culpeper, Virginia. She was preceded in death by her husband of 49 years, Arthur Robert Parham Jr., and by both her parents.

She is survived by her daughters, Katharine Parham of Boone, North Carolina and Cordelia Parham of DeKalb; two grandchildren, Nathaniel Jackson Fischer and Mercer Ellen Fischer; and her son-in-law Craig Fischer.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of DeKalb, 158 N. Fourth St. The family invites friends to celebrate Parham’s life with coffee and desserts in the fellowship hall after the service.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to:

Parham earned a bachelor of sciences from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1960 and a PhD in nutrition from the University of Tennessee in 1968. She was also a registered dietician.

After a long and distinguished career, Parham retired as a full professor from Northern Illinois University in 2003 where she had served for many years as the coordinator of NIU’s nutrition, dietetics and hospitality administration program.

A pioneer in research on obesity and size acceptance, Parham published widely and was involved in many national initiatives related to healthy weight. A dedicated teacher, she was a mentor to several generations of dieticians and doctoral students.

Her intellectual curiosity and concern for the impact of society’s body size fixation upon women’s mental health led her to pursue a master’s in counseling from NIU in the 1980s, and she worked part time as a licensed professional counselor at the DeKalb Family Services agency for many years before and after her retirement from NIU. She also led a weekly caregivers’ support group for several years.

Even after retirement, she continued to apply her research and organizational skills in service to the university.

In 2005 Parham served as interim chair of the School of Allied Health Professions. In 2007, she served as coordinator for the Illinois Homeland Security Education Alliance, a consortium of several Illinois universities designed to enhance the homeland security knowledge base.

Other service in her early years of retirement included volunteer work as an adult literacy instructor.

In addition to her professional achievements, Parham was also an avid artist, primarily in the medium of silk painting, and sold scarves and jewelry through a small business she started with her daughter Kathy, Blue Chicory Arts. The nexus of her many interests could be seen in the many beautiful silk paintings she made of fruits and vegetables.

Parham also enjoyed creative writing and published a short story, “A Small Debt Easily Paid” in DeKalb County Magazine in 1989. Parham loved to garden and was a voracious reader.

Her last years were dominated by caring for her husband, Art, during his long battle with cancer and with her own declining health. She was dedicated, loving mother and grandmother and a generous, loyal friend. Despite her health setbacks, at the time of her death she was actively interested in joining the board of the DeKalb Public Library, reflecting her love of reading and her belief in the importance of community spaces.