On October 29, 1928, Rev. Dr. Semuel Milford Bagley and Leomae Walker Bagley welcomed their fourth baby into the family, Vernie Matilda Bagley. Vernie accepted Christ and was baptized at an early age, and service to the community was her calling until her death. She was a member of Galilee Baptist Church of Trenton, NJ most of her life as that was the church where her father preached and her mother was first lady until their deaths. Always an individual and never one to be stifled by convention, Vernie called many churches home during her 91 years and actively supported every church home she attended. Vernie was well known for her selflessness and good works throughout the communities she resided.
In her life, she was a pioneer in many regards. Known as a sensitive child, she was always very loving but she was not afraid to try new things. She went away to college to attend Morgan State College. And to the great surprise of her family, she transferred to Jersey City School of Nursing where she graduated and earned her registered nursing (RN) license. Vernie trained under the nuns and priests of St. Francis Hospital in Jersey City and was an operating room nurse from 1954-1957. Her exemplary work ethic was part of her character. So, in 1957, she worked for Brooklyn Jewish Hospital as a member of the new state of the art open heart surgery team where she stayed until 1959. And, it was at work where she met Winston Ivelaw Sandiford Ellis. He was from British Guyana and had emigrated to the United States in 1945 to finish his education in bio-chemistry at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Vernie needed blood work done and told the lab technician that only one person could try to take her blood and could only stick her once with the needle so he had better get the best person to do that because she did not have good veins. The technician sent for Winston, and he not only took her blood that day, but eventually he won her heart. They were married June 22, 1958 in the first wedding hosted at the newly built Galilee Baptist Church on Princeton Ave in Trenton. Vernie recounted that later, contrary to conventional norms of the day, she worked in the operating room right up to the birth of her first child, a son, in December 1959. After Alexander's birth, she stayed home and raised all 3 of her children. And while she did not work for pay, she actively volunteered and participated in improving the schools and the community where she lived.
Vernie was active in her community. She belonged to the Parent Teacher Associations of all of her children's schools and was involved in the political structure of East Orange, NJ elected to the Democratic County Committee of the East Orange 5th ward. She served on many boards during her lifetime. Notably, she was a member and former VP of the Board of Trustees for East Orange Public Libraries, she was a member and past Chair of the East Orange Board of Health, in addition to serving on the New Jersey State Board of Health. She served as a delegate on the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) committees for Ageing, Status of Women, Youth, and World Health Organization. For most of her adult life, Vernie belonged to and was past president of Iota Phi Lambda sorority Phi Chapter, a black businesswoman's sorority which is active in community affairs. She joined the League of Women Voters and served as president to the East Orange chapter and later as Vice-President of Essex County. She was a retired Director of Nursing at Cherry Nursing Home, Montclair, NJ, co-founder of Ellis Bio-Science Laboratories, Jersey City, NJ, the Treasurer and one of the founding members of East Orange Women's Alliance, which created a college scholarship fund for local youth. She was a member of Church Women United and past member of the Board of Directors of Church World Service.
A story of note: As a child, she went to an integrated public grammar school and was loved by her classmates and their parents alike. When it was time for her to attend middle school, the middle schools in Trenton were segregated which meant she would not be able to attend with some of her closest friends. However, her white friends' families would not hear of it. They loved Vernie and pushed the school system to admit her so she could go to school with their children. And she did. Subsequently, African American mothers Gladys Hedgepeth and Berline Williams filed suit against the Trenton Board of Education, which resulted in the precedent setting Hedgepeth-Williams v. Board of Education and consequently in the desegregation of all New Jersey Schools. That court case, won in 1944 was cited as the precedent for Brown v. Board of Education a decade later that desegregated schools all over the country. Because people loved Vernie for who she was, that love caused change throughout the entire country.
Vernie also published a devotional entitled "Two Commandments" in Sister Strength: A Collection of Devotions for and from African-American Women.
In her later years, she split her time throughout the year living with each of her three children. In Harwich, MA where she lived with her daughter Darlene and son-in-law Jim most of the year, she attended Pilgrim Congregational Church. There, she was very active in the homeless ministry and modeled her lifelong faith in Christ in her actions and deeds. When she lived in Los Angeles, California with her son, Dr. W. Alexander Ellis and daughter-in-law Vadtey Horchin, she attended First Baptist Church of Hollywood. Again, she followed her calling to help those in need and energetically assisted with their homeless mission. The remainder of the year she lived with her daughter Pamela Ellis Knight and granddaughter Angel Knight in Cary, North Carolina where she attended Pullen Memorial Baptist Church. She worked with the homeless and the hungry and answered God's call to house and feed those in need and did so with love, kindness and respect. She always went out of her way to make others feel welcome and cared for.
She is survived by her children W. Alexander Ellis (Vadtey) of Los Angeles, CA, Pamela Ellis Knight of Cary, NC, Darlene Ellis-Donahue (James) of Harwich, MA; her grandchildren Elizabeth Taylor Boland (Daniel) of Montclair, NJ, Michael Horchin of Los Angeles, CA, Basira Knight of Washington, D.C., Angel Knight of Claremont, CA; her siblings Leomae Good of Georgia, Rev. Dr. Stanley B. Bagley (Ruth) of Georgia, Janice Donastorg of Georgia; cousin Judy Parrish White of Lawrenceville, NJ, and sister-in-law Imelda Ellis Bulcock of New York, and a host of beloved nieces and nephews and dear friends. She was predeceased by her husband of 44 years, Winston I. Ellis; parents Rev. Dr. Semuel M. and Leomae Walker Bagley; siblings Harthy (Bunni) Brothers, Semuel Bagley, Ezanie Wilson Bagley, Orva Nance, Jacquelin Bagley; and beloved nieces Linda Nance Ball and Terri Lynn Bagley.