Ellis Ivey was born on February 5, 1917, the son of Ellis and Margaret Dunlop Ivey. His early years were spent on a farm in rural Georgia, not the sort of background usually associated with a high-powered General Motors executive. However, his parents had high expectations for Ellis and his two brothers—and they knew how to translate those expectations into practical terms.
His father taught him that the only way to succeed was through hard work. His mother showed him that the best way to motivate people was to treat them with dignity and respect. Both parents believed in the importance of education.
After high school, Ellis headed to what was then known as Clemson Agricultural College where he studied engineering. At the time, Clemson was an all-male military school where the students were subjected to a rigorous and demanding schedule. His son, Ellis Jr. commented, “I know this to be a fact because when I was young, I was informed of this rigorous and demanding schedule often.”
After graduation, Ellis took a job in Akron, Ohio, with the U. S. Rubber Company (now Uniroyal). However, Saginaw’s Steering Gear Division was looking for engineers and in 1940, Ellis accepted their offer and moved to Saginaw. He became a plant foreman in the Buena Vista Township complex a year later. As foremen, he was known for his tough dealings with the UAW.
World War II soon interrupted his automotive career. In 1942, he joined the Army Corps of Engineers and served in Borneo, New Guinea, and the Philippines until he was discharged in 1945. He was awarded the Legion of Merit. While stationed at Ford Ord in California, before going overseas, he met Mary Ann Smith.
When the war was over, he returned to Saginaw to continue his career with GM and, in 1946, he and Mary Ann were married. They had four children: Ellis Jr., Joanne, Martha and Christie.
In 1957, Ellis was named plant manager and in 1970, he became general manager of Saginaw Steering Gear. In that position, all General Motors operations had to answer to him. To keep aware of everything that was going on, he was often found on the plant floor, talking to both salaried and hourly employees. They all felt at home with him.
He led Steering Gear so well that it was the most profitable component of General Motors until his retirement in 1982. He was also the driving force that built GM plants in Alabama and in Cadiz, Spain.
Besides the General Motors workforce, he had gained the respect of the community and was active in civic affairs. He was chairman of the board of United Way of Saginaw County, chairman of the Saginaw County Republican Party, a board member of Second National Bank and president of the Saginaw Club.
He was a member of the Lions Club, Saginaw Country Club and the United Methodist Church. He worked with the Boy Scouts and received their Silver Beaver Award.
He always had a warm spot in his heart for Clemson: in 1998 he dedicated a manufacturing lab on the campus in memory of his brother Joe.
He loved the outdoors and especially enjoyed hunting with his beloved dogs, fishing and the family cottage in Roscommon. He belonged to Trout Unlimited and Big Creek Lodge, and with his neighbors at the Bay City Hunting and Fishing Club, he was responsible for planting several thousand trees.
Ellis Ivey died on April 5, 2001. One-time Saginaw mayor Paul Wendler said of him, “He demanded a lot of people…(because of him) the people were better and the community of Saginaw was made more prosperous and a better place to live.”
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