Living Democracy

Local's many interests makes a difference in Elba

Nell GilmerMrs. Nell Gilmer, 82, is a long time resident of Elba.

Born and raised on a farm outside the city limits, Gilmer was the valedictorian of her Elba High School class of 1952.

Gilmer met and married her husband, Jim, while in college at Troy University.

They traveled around the nation with his job in the apparel industry.

While being stationed and living in Texas, Gilmer completed her bachelor’s degree in home economics from East Texas State University at Commerce, currently known as Texas A&M in 1976.

After her husband retired, they settled back on her family farm outside of Elba. She remembers how much hard work it was to keep up the land, so they decided find a house in town. 

Gilmer’s servant heart first became evident in one of her first projects when she moved back to Elba.

She chartered the first Kiwanis Club in Elba in 2004, where their biggest project was the building of Tiger Town Park, a playground off of downtown.

“I have mostly done volunteer work all of my life and I really enjoy it,” Gilmer explains.

Gilmer's sewing roomGilmer also has strong interests in sewing, reading, gardening, and history.

“I love to make costumes,” she says.

She even has her own sewing space that she delightfully calls, Nell’s Sewing Cottage. It is right outside of her house that acts a place for her to do what she loves.

“I like to come out her sometimes, and just close the door and sew,” she explains.

Gilmer has proven to have a green thumb too, as she is a part of the first Coffee County Master Gardeners.

With beautiful blooms surrounding her house, Gilmer has planted every tree on their land and has watched her plants grow over the years.

“It has been so neat to watch the trees grow and get so big,” she expresses.

With her love of gardening, she volunteers much time to the Giving Garden to make sure it is weed-free and the plants are growing right.

However, Gilmer’s love of history is what really drives her involvement in the Elba community.

Gilmer holding a bookGilmer established the Elba History Committee, where she acts as Chairman. Through that committee, she headed up the publishing of Elba-Then and Now 1853-2013, a 175-page book of records, photos, and history of the town.

Gilmer is also a 30-year member of the Daughters of the American Revolution where she specializes in Historic Preservation.

“I love history, so the I define myself as a historical preservationist,” Gilmer says.

Gilmer’s strive to embrace Elba’s history has pushed her into renovating the old jail down town in hopes to create an Elba History Museum.  She has acquired grants for the project, but has not been able to start the project due to the extensive and skilled labor that required for these types of renovations.

“We don’t have the expertise in this area that is going to be needed to renovate the jail, so the plan is use the grant money that we have so far to get someone to work on it that can,” she explains.

The old Elba jailGilmer has specifically dedicated several projects, like the old jail renovation, as Alabama Bicentennial projects. As part of an Elba committee, she strives to preserve history by partnering with the Bicentennial in their efforts to celebrate Alabama’s history.

Her love for this community has been evident in her strides to celebrate Elba’s unique story.

“I always like to pitch in and help anyway I can,” she says.

Gilmer wants Elba to remain historic, and she believes that the true transformation will start with the Elba Theatre.

“My main goal is to see the main street area completed, and the theatre will be the drawing card,” she expresses.

“I want to make a difference.  My motto is: Live so that when you are gone, it will have mattered. I want to know what's going on about me and what I can do to make a difference,” she says.

By Emily Vick
Last Updated: June 14, 2017