Maie Ellis School is named for the teacher who guided Fallbrook from one room school houses to a formal educational system with high standards.

She was born Maie Lenora Ahlstrom in Los Angeles on May 23,1890, the 6th of 9 children to John Frederick Alstrom (1848-1934), an immigrant from Sweden, and the former Hannah Jane Johnson (1867-1937), from Utah.  Maie grew up on a small farm adjacent to Florence Avenue, which in modern times is near the center of today’s sprawling City of Los Angeles. (1)

Maie attended college, earning a teaching degree at the Los Angeles Normal School (a teaching school), which later became UCLA. 

In 1911 Maie married Benjamin C. Merriman in Los Angeles. (2)  Several years later, they moved to West Fallbrook and together they purchased a 20-acre ranch, where Fallbrook High School is located today.

Benjamin and Maie had 3 children; Lillian (1913), Benjamin Jr. (1918), and Lucile (1919).  When Maie’s husband died in September 1921, (3) leaving her with 3 children and a mortgage, Maie began a teaching career. Her first job was at the old Fallbrook (Reche) school.  She was the only teacher for eight grades in the one room Reche Schoolhouse. “It was chaos.” she said. “There was no order, no curriculum, no purpose, no direction, no discipline.  I had to start from scratch and turn it into a place of learning.” (4)

Maie believed in discipline.  “Children cannot take part in the discipline of learning,” she explained, “if they do not behave in a disciplined manner.”  She developed a curriculum that emphasized teaching the three Rs.

Her success led to more job offers.  After two years at the Fallbrook (Reche) school, Mrs. Maie Merriman was offered a position in 1923 to teach at the West Fallbrook Grammar School as one of four teachers at the old wooden two-story school at the corner of Elder Street and Hill Avenue.  There were two classes per room. Maie taught the 5th and 6th grades. (5)   Her eldest daughter Lillian was one of her students.  Maie was offered a contract for the following year, but instead she accepted a position as the principal of the Bonsall School District. (6)

The local newspaper often reported in their social news that Maie Merriman’s parents from Los Angeles were in Fallbrook to visit their daughter and grandchildren.  On other occasions, Maie and the children traveled to Los Angeles to visit her parents.

Mrs. Maie Merriman returned to the West Fallbrook Union Grammer School District for the 1928 school year in the new stucco building where her two younger children, Ben and Lucile, were students now. Lillian was attending Fallbrook High on Ivy St.  During the summer break, Maie supplemented her pay by working at the Fallbrook Citrus Association packing house.  She did another stint as principal of the Bonsall School District, to help improve the curriculum at Bonsall’s new school. Maie returned to West Fallbrook.  Maie Merriman was appointed school principal in 1934 for West Fallbrook Union Grammer School by James Potter, the Superintendent of Fallbrook schools.  Maie continued her teaching duties, in addition to being principal. 

She was known as a strict but fair teacher, but Maie also enjoyed music.  I used to sing with my students.  We were gay and happy together,” she remembered. (7) Maie was a talented singer. She organized student singing groups.  She played the piano for student recitals. Maie also played the violin, and the cello in the adult community music groups led by Keith Popejoy, the elementary school music director.  Maie sang solos at public events.

In 1936, Maie Lenora Merriman married Tom G. Ellis (1881-1970) a divorced Fallbrook rancher who owned a neighboring ranch. Tom Ellis had grown up on the ranch his father had homesteaded on Olive Hill before Fallbrook was a town.  Maie was a longtime colleague of Tom’s younger half-sister Roberta Ellis, a teacher at both the West Fallbrook and Bonsall schools.

With her husband, Tom Ellis, Maie became an avid horse rider and a lifetime member of the Fallbrook Riders Club.  She was also a member of the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society. 

In 1941, when the Fallbrook schools experienced rapid growth due to the military buildup at the Naval Ammunition Depot and Camp Pendleton, James Potter, Superintendent of Schools finally split his duties and appointed Mrs. Maie Ellis as superintendent of the Elementary School District, although she continued a dual role as the school principal.

Maie’s children were grown now. Lillian and Ben Merriman were finishing their university degrees at San Diego and Berkley respectively.  Lucile was married. Ben served in the Army Air Corps in Europe during the war.

Maie Ellis retired in 1946, after 25 years of teaching and leading the school district.  Her many lifetime awards included being credited for having developed an outstanding educational program for the entire area. (8)

After retirement, Maie Ellis stayed busy with a long list of local organizations.  In addition to the Riders Club, she served as an officer in the recently founded Fallbrook chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), She was a member of the Fallbrook Garden Club, the Reche Club and the Grange, plus she continued singing with the Melody Club led by Keith Popejoy. Maie Ellis belonged to both the Fallbrook and Vista Camera Clubs.  She had her own darkroom and won multiple awards for her photography over the years.  She traveled with her camera, and prepared slideshow travelogue presentations that she gave to various civic clubs.

In 1953, Maie & Tom Ellis sold their ranch to the Fallbrook High School District.  Fallbrook High School now sits on the former Ellis Ranch.

Maie was active with the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber awarded her an honorary lifetime membership in 1967, for her volunteer service and financial donations to the Chamber. (9)  She stayed busy after she was widowed a 2nd time when Tom Ellis passed away in 1970 at the age of 89.

She served as chair of the Chamber of Commerce historical committee.  As the unofficial Historian of the Village, Maie researched and clarified important details about Fallbrook History and cleared up many myths.  “I may have upset a few apple carts” she once said with a smile.” (10)

Maie Ellis served on the Chamber’s Bicentennial Committee which recommended that a Historical Society for the town be created.  She became a founding member of the Fallbrook Historical Society in 1976.  The Chamber of Commerce named Maie Ellis Fallbrook Citizen of the Year in 1984. (11)

From her mobile home on East Mission and at the Historical Society Museum, Maie Ellis worked energetically during her last years, preserving the history of Fallbrook. She had taught the children of Fallbrook’s pioneers.  Her late husband’s family had homesteaded here in 1884 and once owned the famous Ellis hotel, where today’s Fallbrook Library is located.  Maie Ellis was witness to the history of Fallbrook’s one room schools evolving into larger campuses of systematic learning.

Maie gathered Ellis and other pioneer family photographs and documents.   Like a teacher disappointed in a student’s performance, Maie took it personally when people got Fallbrook’s history wrong. She was once quoted as saying “I get very angry when people don’t get their facts straight.” (12)

Skilled with a camera, Maie photographed old tintype pictures and redeveloped them.  She corresponded with relevant agencies to clarify historical details.  Her Pictorial History of Fallbrook 1880-1920, can be found in the Fallbrook Historical Society Museum. A copy of her Pictorial history book is held at the Fallbrook public library in the rare book section.

Maie Ellis’ book became the cornerstone for much of Fallbrook’s documented history.  Her collection of photographs formed the nucleus for the museum’s historic photo gallery.

Maie Lenora Ahlstrom Merriman Ellis passed away on September 25, 1989 at the age of 99.  She was survived by her 3 children, 7 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and 8 great-great-grandchildren. (13) She is buried near her parents in Inglewood, Calif.

Tom Frew,
FHS Historian

       1) 1910 U.S. Census.
       2) Los Angeles Times 1 Feb 1911, marriage license announcement.
       3) Tombstone of Benjamin C. Merriman, Roosevelt Memorial Park, Gardena.
       4) Fallbrook Review magazine Apr/May 1981
       5) Fallbrook Enterprise 19 Oct, 1923 & 11 Jan, 1924
       6) Fallbrook Enterprise 27 Jun, 1924
       7) Sara Pentz, Fallbrook Review magazine Apr/May 1981
       8) Fallbrook Union High School letter from FUHS Board, dated 8 Jun 1977
       9) Letter from Chamber of Commerce President, Clos Frandell, May 9, 1967.
     10) Oceanside Blade Tribune June 25, 1972.
     11) Chamber of Commerce plaque in Chamber office.
     12) Sara Pentz, Fallbrook Review magazine Apr/May 1981.
    Obituary, Escondido Times-Advocate, Sep 29, 1989.