Ethel Ivory moved to Milwaukee from Corinth, MS in 1943 when she was 20-yearsold. She was a relatively early member of the Great Migration, a movement which caused a massive number of black laborers and families to move North in search of better living and working conditions in the decade during and after World War II. On May 13, 2023 Ethel celebrated her 99th birthday with a block party for her large, family both biological and adopted.
It was a very large party. During her long life, Ethel raised seven children of her own and three others as well; she ran two successful businesses; helped found a new church congregation; and provided a substantial percentage of the funding needed when it constructed a new $1.5-million facility. She has been a successful real estate investor.
“I never wanted for anything in life, but no one ever gave me anything,” she said.
In spite of this, she has given so much to so many. Soon after relocating to Milwaukee, she said she was hired by the National Enameling and Stamping Corp. (NESCO) to help manufacture artillery shells. After the war ended, she began working as a cook at what is now known as Jack Pandl’s Whitefish Bay Inn. Soon, word of her delicious pastries and pies spread and she eventually founded Mama’s Place, a soul food restaurant near 27th and North Ave., and Mama’s Pies which featured her famous fried apple pies, near 45th and Burleigh Street.
“She had a ministry,” said Racquel Ivory, one of her 13 grandchildren. “She fed the homeless and was a witness to a lot of human suffering. She really doesn’t like to receive. She just wants to give to others.” Racquel said her grandmother also for many years worked form many years with a local food pantry to make sure her neighbors did not go hungry.
Racquel said Ethel continues to provide meals to a number of her immediate neighbors, many of whom dropped by on Saturday to wish Ethel happy birthday.
Ethel Ivory was also instrumental in helping to found the congregation of Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in 1994 with Pastor Harold D. Turner, Sr., owner and publisher of The Milwaukee Times. In 2006, when Trinity sought to build a new $1.5-million church campus near the intersection of Locust and Teutonia, Ethel Ivory donated part of the seed money and held fundraisers.
“She has been a pillar at Trinity,” Turner said. “In my 45 years of ordained ministry, I have never known anyone as generous with her time, talent and treasure.”
Over the years, Ethel has purchased houses for many of her children. She also helped a number of them graduate from college. She continues to live in the same house she purchased a few years after she first moved to Milwaukee, with her now-deceased husband, Edward. Until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Ethel continued to do yard work and cut her own grass. However, after suffering two COVID-19 infections recently, she is hoping to get enough of her strength back in time to begin attending church in person and to work in her yard in this year.