Elisabeth Davis, 101, held a unique place in the history of Culver Academies, where she worked for more than 80 years and 10 of the 13 Heads of Schools since the school was founded in 1894. She passed away peacefully on Saturday morning.
Visitation for Mrs. Davis – as she was known on campus for her 80-plus years – will be conducted from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at the Odom Funeral Home in Culver. A memorial service will be conducted at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, in the Culver Academies Memorial Chapel. Visitation at the chapel will be conducted from 11 a.m. until the time of the service.
Mrs. Davis was interviewed and hired by John W. Henderson (later Dean Henderson), father of Jim Henderson ’52. At that time, Gen. Leigh Gignilliat was the superintendent. Through the years, she worked with Academies superintendents Col. William E. Gregory, John Seddon Fleet, Col. Allen R. Elliott, Gen. Delmar T. Spivey, Brig. Gen. John W. Dobson, Lt. Gen. John W. Carpenter, Dean Ernest Benson, Col. Ben A. Barone, Dean John Mars, Dean Ralph Manuel, Heads of Schools John Buxton and Jim Power.
It was her 2016 interview with Power that went viral, becoming news across the country and, eventually, the world. Before it was over, her story had reached an estimated million people. One year later, Mrs. Davis was named a Sagamore of the Wabash – the State of Indiana’s highest civilian honor – by Gov. Eric Holcomb.
In an interview with The Pilot-News three years prior, Mrs. Davis said, “I’ve enjoyed my work and didn’t want to leave with a rocking chair.
“I didn’t expect to work here that long,” she added. “But it worked out, and the school’s been very good to me.”
During that interview, Mrs. Davis said she has witnessed many sea changes, including the introduction of the faculty daughters on campus and the launch of Culver Girls Academy. But, she thought, the biggest change was the computer revolution, which has impacted every aspect of how work is handled at the school.
Her work in the admissions office was a critical part of the “behind the scenes” functions of the school, where she maintained over a century’s worth of documents and records; and that did not include the invaluable asset of her memory itself.
She born on July 21, 1917, to Nora and Jesse Zechiel. They preceded her in death, as did her husband Eldon (2004), brother Ferris (2010) and her sister Marguerite (2009). She graduated from Culver High School in 1935, where she was one of the fortunate few students selected to take typing classes her senior year. In 1936, she returned to high school to take shorthand classes as college was out of her reach financially.
Later that year, a cousin working at Culver Military Academy suggested Elisabeth interview for a position in the Admissions office. Everything was done in pen and ink, she said, not typed. For a number of years, she addressed Culver catalogs to those who inquired for them, some days as many as 500 catalogs per day. After three years, she worked her way up to typist and secretary, answering the phones and keeping the books.
In 1945, she married Eldon Davis, whom she knew from high school. They had two children, Paul and Eldonna. Mrs. Davis took 1954 to 1961 off while the children were little. When they reached school age, she returned to work. Paul (Cathy) and Eldonna (Mike) survive along with six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren and step-grandchildren.