Ellen Armstrong Kanarek, 69, of Princeton, N.J., sister of the Rev. Elsie Rhodes, Cooperstown’s First Presbyterian Church pastor, died from complications of pneumonia on Thanksgiving night, Nov. 22, 2018, at Princeton Medical Center.
Ellen was born in Princeton on March 24, 1949, and was a longtime resident. She was a 1966 graduate of Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, where she excelled academically, teaching herself Greek as an independent study, and was a leader in the highly regarded GFS traveling choir. During her years in Philadelphia, she was an active participant in the youth group at her father’s church, the Oak Lane Presbyterian Church.
At Wellesley College, Ellen majored in French, minored in German, and was named a Durant Scholar, graduating with honors in 1970. She received her Ph.D. in Education, specializing in Institutional Research, at the University of Michigan in 1978, where she was a professional monograph editor and statistics consultant, and was recognized with the Burke Aaron Hinsdale Scholar award by a formal vote of the faculty, for “unusual academic proficiency and high professional ideals”. She was also active as a performer in the drama program, especially Gilbert & Sullivan musicals, and sang in the choir of the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor.
Between college and graduate school, Ellen served as registrar, and then assistant dean for Undergraduate Students at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, where she also sang in one of their choirs. Later, she became the alto soloist at Trinity Episcopal Church and then All Saints Episcopal Church, both in Princeton. Most recently, Ellen was a member of Trinity United Church of Warren, N.J., where she directed the Bell Choir and was a leader in many other church activities.
Ellen began working as a research analyst at Rutgers University shortly before completing her Ph.D. thesis. Later, as the proud parent of three Rutgers Honors Program graduates, she remained an enthusiastic RU sports fan, especially of the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team.
In 1989, Ellen accepted a position at Applied Educational Research, Inc. (AER) in Princeton, advanced to vice president in 1995, and continued in that role to the present, leading institutional research projects for secondary school systems, colleges, and universities nationwide. Her best-known annual research project in the higher education community was the Admitted Students Questionnaire (ASQ) on behalf of the College Board, to which hundreds of colleges and universities subscribed, where she polled tens of thousands of students to explore the reasons why they selected their college to attend.
Ever a volunteer, Ellen was committed to giving back to her profession. She joined the Association for Institutional Research (AIR), in 1986. It was quickly evident that Ellen was a future-focused, passionate and fully engaged member, heavily involved in coordinating the AIR Forum which is the world’s largest gathering of higher education professionals working in institutional research, assessment, and planning. Ellen was a frequent facilitator, track chair, convener, presenter and author, led member outreach efforts, and was Chair of the millennium Forum conference in 1999-2000. Ellen also was very active in the regional North East Association for Institutional Research (NEAIR) where she served as President.
Ellen was a woman of many remarkable talents, whose countless accomplishments included the annual baking project she and her family loved to do together and with friends each holiday season, to the gastronomical delight of dozens of friends, family, and colleagues. Each year, the “Kanarek Cookie Factory” baked, individually packaged, and delivered as many as a thousand dozen cookies at Christmas, of many varieties. The label of every package read, “There is no such thing as too many cookies.”
Music infused every aspect of Ellen’s life, as a professional singer and with her children. She was actively engaged with the American Boychoir School (ABS) in Princeton, where she served as a parent volunteer in many capacities while two of her sons attended and her third son served in administrative and teaching positions. Two of her favorite projects that she led for the ABS students were staged Shakespeare readings, and tournament bridge instruction. Through her work with the Development Office, Ellen’s projects raised over $250,000 for ABS. She also served on parent committees for the music and drama programs of Franklin High School in Somerset, NJ, where all three sons attended.
Ellen loved bringing her family and friends together. She and her husband Mike were gracious and generous hosts throughout the year, welcoming guests from all over the world into their home, especially during the holiday seasons when all 12 Kanareks came home to stay.
Ellen was a talented performer, who excelled as a pianist, singer, and sight reader. She was a Life Master bridge player, and loved playing in tournaments with her family. She was a professional researcher at work, and a non-profit volunteer and fundraiser for schools, churches, and music organizations at home. Ellen was a voracious reader, particularly of mysteries and fantasy novels; a highly knowledgeable sports fan, especially of her grandfather’s and father’s team the Baltimore Orioles; and most of all, a dedicated daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, and grandmother.
Throughout her life, Ellen brought a keen sense of humor and boundless mental energy to every task. In later years her physical energy was slowed by adult onset Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, a progressive genetic condition of neuropathy leading to muscular atrophy, and then by a lung condition that led to her pneumonia. Her many accomplishments were in spite of the fact that for the last fifteen years of her life she had decreasing strength in her extremities due to the effects of CMT and often needed
a wheelchair, a weakness later compounded by failing lungs. Nevertheless, her courage, bravery and determination to continue her many projects were a source of inspiration to her family and friends.
Ellen will be especially missed by her husband, children, and grandchildren, who were the great joy of her life. She will be remembered for her strong, clear, vibrant contralto voice; her full rich liquid laugh; her generous spirit; her sparkling eyes; her enormous heart; her commitment to service; as a quick-quipper; baker par excellence; and the level-headed lady who always put others first. Brilliant, strong, verbal, passionate about life, loved children, knew how to commit, humorous, musical: she was worth knowing for a lifetime.
Predeceased by her mother, Margaret Childs Armstrong, and brother, Richard Stoll Armstrong, Jr., Ellen is survived by her father, the Rev. Dr. Richard Stoll Armstrong; husband Michael Allan Kanarek; her son Derek Decker Kanarek, his wife Rebecca Shell Kanarek, and their children Charlie, Will, and Elliott; her son Dr. Graham Childs “Gray” Kanarek, his wife Marnie Kanarek, and their children Gabriel and Julian; her son Orion Fire “Ryan” Kanarek; her siblings Andrew Childs Armstrong and his wife Caroline Armstrong, William Harwood “Woody” Armstrong and his wife Christine Armstrong, and the Rev. Elsie Armstrong Rhodes and her husband Thomas Rhodes; and a large extended family of loving nephews, nieces and cousins.
Arrangements are at the direction of the Mather-Hodge Funeral Home, Princeton. Burial will be private. A glorious memorial service including some of Ellen’s favorite choral music will be held at All Saints Church, 16 All Saints Road, Princeton NJ 08540, on Saturday December 29, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. It is a celebration of Ellen’s life rather than a funeral; black is not required; Ellen’s favorite color was blue; business casual dress. The service will also be live-streamed via the free GoToMeeting app on https://www.gotomeet.me/TrinityUnited and on Facebook; visit the Trinity United Church page at https://www.facebook.com/TUCNJ/ for more Facebook streaming instructions to be announced.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Ellen’s memory to some of her favorite causes that she supported: Trinity United Church in Warren, NJ (www.trinityunitedchurch.org), Heifer International (www.heifer.org), the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association (www.cmtausa.org), or the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (www.lls.org).