All in the family

Student’s grandfather, great-grandfather set direction for RIT

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A. Sue Weisler

Student Erik Ellingson stands next to a portrait of his grandfather, Mark Ellingson, in The Wallace Center. Erik came to RIT to study photography. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather were presidents of RIT.

When Erik Ellingson was searching for colleges, he did what every other student does—browsed the Internet and talked to his high school advisor. The Missoula, Mont., native knew he wanted to study photography, and RIT fit all of his requirements.

Erik, now a third-year photography major, can thank his grandfather and great-grandfather for that. Without them, both of whom were RIT presidents, the university wouldn’t be what it is today. In fact, the university might not even be where it is today.

Erik’s grandfather, Mark Ellingson, was RIT’s fifth president, from 1936-1969. During his presidency, the Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute was renamed Rochester Institute of Technology and RIT began awarding degrees. Under Ellingson’s direction, the university moved from downtown Rochester to today’s location in Henrietta.

“He took a school that trained skilled workers and turned it into a modern university,” says RIT archivist Becky Simmons.

Erik’s great-grandfather was John Randall, who was the fourth president of RIT, from 1922 until 1936. “He came in as a military man and snapped things to attention,” Simmons says. “He brought in the best educational consultants.”

Randall’s daughter, Marcia, married Mark Ellingson. Marcia Ellingson was a founder of the RIT Women’s Council in 1955, which enhances the academic and campus life of women.

Erik didn’t know all of that history when he applied to RIT. He had visited Rochester as a kid and knew he had a family connection to the university. But he was more interested in RIT because he could get the education needed to become a commercial photographer, and he liked the idea of going to school in another state.

“It just worked that we have a good photography school,” says Erik, who expects to graduate next May. “If we didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Erik says a few professors have asked him if there’s a family connection, and it was mentioned at the end of freshman orientation week. (His freshman year, he lived in Peterson Hall, adjacent to Ellingson Hall, named after his grandfather.)

He tries to visit a memorial garden dedicated to his grandmother near the residence halls once a week. Both Mark and Marcia Ellingson died in 1993.

Jon Ellingson, Erik’s father, says his father would be delighted that Erik picked RIT because he picked the school that was right for him. Jon Ellingson grew up in Rochester but then moved west for college. He has visited his son several times at RIT. “I continue to be enormously impressed with the vitality of the university. It is an amazing place.”

His son agrees.

“Now that I’m here I absolutely love it,” Erik says. “I couldn’t see being anywhere else.”