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LINCOLN PARK – Grace McClelland, former executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center, suffered a fatal heart attack on June 16.
McClelland, 57, was born in Camden, New Jersey. After graduating from St. Joseph’s High School she studied law and criminal justice at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, and later did graduate work in psychology at California Coast University in Santa Ana, California. McClelland worked for over two decades in the non-profit arena often focusing on youth causes. She was associate director of Three Rivers Youth in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. and executive director of Harbor Creek Youth Services in Erie, Pennsylvania.
In 2003, after a national search by its board of directors, McClelland was selected to be the first executive director of the fledgling Ruth Ellis Center. There she focused on generating new revenue by leveraging long-term relationships with funding sources and building financial stability. While at REC, McClelland oversaw tremendous growth. She moved the agency out of its small space in Detroit into a huge industrial building in Highland Park and expanded hours and services. She also was responsible for the purchasing and remodeling of a house on Philadelphia Street that opened in 2004 as Ruth’s House, a transitional living program for young LGBT adults. For her efforts, McClelland was given the Spirit of Detroit award presented by the Detroit City Council and the Leadership Award from the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Addictions Professionals.
“Grace was very generous and always helped others in need,” said Martone Williams, who served as her administrative assistant for two years. “She would give you the shirt off of her back if you needed it. She always had a very encouraging word to say to everybody.”
Karla Handley, who served on REC’s board during McClelland’s tenure, remembered her creativity.
“Grace was a dedicated and creative executive director,” Handley said. “She worked tirelessly, and loved and respected the kids. She had a knack for stretching every donated dollar to its limit. Grace arranged site visits with many politicians and other influential people. As a result of a tour by Senator Carl Levin in 2008, REC received a grant of over a quarter of a million dollars from the federal government.”
In all, McClelland spent five years at REC until a disagreement with the board caused her to leave. She then opened her own consulting firm, Liberation Consulting, in 2009.
In addition to youth causes, McClelland cared about civil rights and animal welfare. She was the proud mother of Apollo, a German Shepherd. She enjoyed swimming, basketball and riding her motorcycle.
McClelland is survived by her partner of six years, Pamela Dumouchelle.
“She was a beautiful person and lived in a loving and authentic way,” Dumouchelle said in a statement she posted on Facebook. “Her dedication to the community filled my heart and fulfilled hers. … Every life she touched seems to carry a deep respect and love for her. I am proud to have been with her and will miss and love her deeply every day I am here.”
Memorial Service Planned For Former REC Staffer Jack VanHecke
Jack VanHecke, who worked under Grace McClelland as Ruth Ellis Center’s director of business development, died March 27. A celebration of his life has been set for Saturday, July 18, at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, located at 4800 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. The service begins at 2 p.m. Reception will follow immediately after at Barth Hall at the Cathedral. A fund has been set up for VanHecke’s 13-year-old son Aidan. Donations can be made to Aidan VanHecke Education Fund, c/o Chuck VanHecke, 2912 Provence Lane, Muscatine, IA 52761.