Eleanor Klopp and the Story of a Library

An Ellie Klopp Biography
by Karen L. Totten, RSSAA Librarian at the Ellie Klopp Memorial Library

It is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.” ― Maurice Sendak

There's so much more to a book than just the reading.
― Maurice Sendak

Eleanor Klopp, known to many as Ellie, is the namesake for the RSSAA Lower School Library and has the distinction of being its first librarian. This May 17th will mark the 98th anniversary of her birth and seems a fitting time to recall her work and her legacy... 

Ellie grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, studying Liberal Arts. While there she earned the distinctive Hopwood Award, given to select students each year since 1931, when dramatist Avery Hopwood, a U of M alumnus (1905), endowed the University with a sixth of his estate for the purposes of rewarding gifted writers among the student population. Ellie won for her “Three  Plays for Children” (1939); back then, a winner was made known of her selection for the award by the arrival of a messenger at home to notify her in person.

This theme of children’s literature continues through Ellie’s life. Her first goal was to support herself. Following her graduation from U of M, she decided to attend the Simmons College of Business in Boston, with the help of some money she received from an aunt. That schooling helped her secure a position as an executive secretary for the Montgomery Ward offices in Detroit.

Ellie met Ari Klopp during World War II; he was in the Air Force. They married and she became the mother of three daughters, a homemaker, and active volunteer in her community. It was during the 1970’s that Ellie returned to the University of Michigan to earn a graduate degree in Library Science. She was, according to her daughter Marian Volkman, certainly “an advocate for reading.” She chose to work with children, and for 13 years was the children’s librarian for the Berkley Public Library in Berkley, Michigan, just outside Detroit.

As her daughter Jennifer MacLean states about Ellie’s view of library work:  “She viewed children as small young people who were her customers (she used to call them that) and wanted to help them [discover] what they liked to read. I don’t think her attitude would have been any different dealing with an adult, which was one of her great charms.”  

Ellie often got requests for “a skinny book about _____ (fill in the blank). She was also amused by being asked more than once “can you find the book I read before about _____? It had a red cover.” Ellie was not annoyed by these requests, rather, thought it spoke well of her and was complimented by the children’s belief in her librarian powers!

A very sweet story is told by Marian who says Ellie often quoted a child’s book review cited in Library Journal that began “this book told me more about penguins than I wanted to know.”

One of many Newbery Award-winning
books at the E.K. Library
Children’s literature was among Ellie’s favorite for reading. According to Volkman, Ellie had a large personal collection. Among her favorites were Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen, among others, and young adult author Orson Scott Card, writer of the Ender’s Game series. She was fan of science fiction, though not more so than of classic novelist Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope, the prolific and respected Victorian novelist. MacLean notes that Ellie was “not a snob about what people read --- any reading was good reading, in her opinion.”

After retiring in 1983, Ellie returned to Ann Arbor. She quickly became a volunteer in the Ann Arbor Public Library system, then became a paid substitute, working in all of the branches, as well as at the Main Library. She kept very busy, volunteering for other projects, including tutoring jail inmates to read.

Around 1989 was when Ellie’s granddaughter Stephanie (Class of 2001) began attending the Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor as a young student. Soon after that Ellie volunteered to help organize and open the Lower School library. Much work needed to be done. The school had inherited a collection of used books from the Newport Elementary School which had occupied the building prior to its purchase for the Lower School campus in 1985. The books were in boxes still, according to Volkman, disorganized, some outdated. Ellie took home box after dusty box, deciding which books to keep and cataloging each volume by hand.

Perhaps it was her pragmatism aiming for optimism that helped her with this task. According to MacLean, “She always thought something could be done about a situation, and that is how it should be.” Ellie worked in the library for a number of years until a replacement was hired to take on the further tasks of preserving and building the collection.

Upon Ellie’s death in September of 1996, the Ellie Klopp Memorial Library was officially established in recognition of her work. A lovely ceremony was attended by teachers and other members of the school community, including Volkman, MacLean and granddaughter Stephanie.

Ellie Klopp will be remembered for her diligent efforts and love of reading that helped her bring the world of books to the RSSAA classrooms and for her positivity and life attitudes; she believed that people were more important than objects (so buy cheap play clothes!) and when Ellie offered cookies, she usually said ‘take two, they’re small,’ no matter what size the cookies actually were.

Her spirit continues to bless the library space on Newport Road where nearly 6,000 books are collected for borrowing. The E.K. Library still retains the card catalog Ellie helped fill, situated right under her photograph. New in recent years are expanded circulation hours, student outreach in the form of Library Month in October and Poetry Month in April, and an online catalog and library blog, which serves to bring community members attention to reading, writing and literature in general, and Waldorf language topics, specifically. Two part-time librarians serve the Lower School library and one serves the Meagan Margerum-Leys Library and collections at the High School. From Ellie Klopp's vision and effort have come forward a beautiful gift to the Steiner School Community.

{A version of this article was also submitted to the Steiner Times Newsletter in Spring 2015}


  1. How wonderful is to learn about Ellie Klopp biography! Make the RSSAA Library even more special!

  2. Thanks for your wonderful story, I'm sure Ellie would be pleased but concerned that a fuss not be made about her.

  3. That was a nice read. I enjoyed learning more about the library's founder. She sounds like an amazing person!


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