Blount County woman killed in crash remembered as world-changer by friends, peers

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BLOUNT COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — “I honestly can’t put a number on how many children she worked with, how many families she touched, how many lives were improved and changed because of her involvement with them,” Michelle Sargent recalled.

Sargent worked with Ellen Shelnutt for six of Shelnutt’s 17-year tenure at the Blount County Children’s Center working with abused children and their caregivers.

“She was a fiery redhead with a great personality. She was so much fun. She had a great sense of humor,” Sargent said.

Shelnutt died in a crash on Highway 75 Sunday when the car she was a passenger in turned left across the northbound lanes and was hit by an oncoming car. Authorities said Shelnutt was pronounced dead at the scene.

Jim Ed Clayton, the center’s executive director, said since the crash, they’ve talked with people and received messages from the community that are a testimony of her life’s work.

Like this one on Facebook: “Ellen was my voice when I was too weak to speak … We are all better people because of Ellen Shellnutt … What will we do without her?”

“Every day is a difficult day but she would bring help and healing to those children and to their caregivers in her own unique and fun and jolly way,” Clayton said.

Shelnutt retired from the center in December 2015, and Clayton said she was making good use of the time.

“Traveling around the country [with] the love of her life. They’ve been traveling around, restoring cars and going to car shows around the country and meeting a lot of friends,” he explained.

But she still came by the center to visit and everyone there said they’ll miss her surprise visits.

“We are very close here, like family, and she is part of that family,” said Clayton.

“We have to keep going. That’s what she would’ve wanted. She laid a good path for all of us and we’ll continue to do this work,” said Sargent.

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