Family and friends gathered for the rededication of the Ellen Shortess Garden at the Erie Station Museum on a recent suitably sunny day. In a post on the Chester Historical Society’s Facebook page, member Leslie Smith described the event: “Micki Smith, daughter of Ellen and Stephen Shortess, gave a touching, heartfelt narrative of the garden and Ellen herself. Ellen and Micki worked untold hours weeding and planting on the knoll and along the trail, creating a garden to enhance the museum. Dave Roach later joined in the work. The rededicated garden has a sundial, given in Ellen’s memory by the Chester Historical Society, and a donated garden bench with a plaque honoring Ellen.”
In a later conversation with The Chronicle, Micki Shortess Smith expanded on her mother’s story.
“Ellen” Shortess, born Alma Rose Edwardsen, grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of an Italian mom and Norwegian father. Ellen was raised by Italians and was a wonderful cook, said Smith, noting that, on holidays, “You never knew who would be there. Mom made everyone welcome.”
Stephen Shortess was living in Brooklyn and working at a bank on Wall Street in Manhattan- his roommate had grown up in Brooklyn with Ellen and introduced them in 1962. The couple married and the family, including daughter Christine, moved to Ossining in Westchester, where Micki (Michele) and her sister Jennifer were born. They relocated to Sugar Loaf in 1977, where Ellen and her husband Steve had a bookkeeping business in the post office building.
In 1990, Ellen and Steve moved their bookkeeping and tax preparation business to downtown Chester, at 12 Main Street. Then Ellen started to beautify the area, not just transforming a trash-strewn area at the station, but planting flowers at the “Welcome to Chester” sign and starting a trend by putting up a flower box outside the family business.
Today, Steve still works there, along with son-in-law Terrence Smith and daughter Micki, who works part-time now. Steve Shortess previously served the community of Chester as Supervisor (‘94-’97) and as town councilman (‘85-’93).
Ellen Shortess was also an artist who made sewn and stuffed satin items, including rainbows and unicorns and lots of other animals under the name Almanals—a play on her name, as well as potpourri strawberries, clowns, cat draft dodgers, Christmas ornaments and special order gifts, according to Micki. She had a small business from 1979-1984.
Micki said she and her sister grew up doing the craft show circuit with her.
“She had so many talents,” said Micki. “Mom was very funny and fun and loved to laugh.”
Ellen was an enthusiastic grandmother and an active Chester Historical Society member. She restored the Sugar Loaf house diorama, handmade by Don Barrell, which graced the walls of the old Sugar Loaf fire and ambulance building for decades, before the Fire Department donated them to the Chester Historical Society. They will be on display in 2023 for the Society exhibit on historic Sugar Loaf.
Ellen Shortess passed away in 2003 from brain cancer. Volunteers, including Micki and other members of the Society, including Georgina Robillard and E.J. Szulwach and employees of Steris, a Chester technology company, have been maintaining and enhancing the gardens. Steris donated a garden bench which has a plaque with Ellen Shortess’ name on it.


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