Honoring the Legacy of Elaine Banks Battles – A Life of Curiosity, Community and Connection

Honoring the Legacy of Elaine Banks Battles – A Life of Curiosity, Community and Connection

This is a tribute to my amazing mom, Elaine Battles. Read about her life and then hear about her amazing reinvention journey in the details below and on the podcast episode we recorded in 2022. ❤️



Elaine Banks Battles, beloved mother, grandmother, cousin, friend and community leader, passed away on September 2, 2023, in New Haven, CT. She was born on September 24, 1932, in Georgia, with a deeply rooted Southern lineage reflected in her maiden name Banks, which 3 brothers took on when they sat by a river after gaining their freedom from slavery.  Elaine’s upbringing in Albany, Georgia, surrounded by the warmth of family, instilled in her the values of compassion, resilience, and community service.

From her earliest days, Elaine was inspired by the remarkable women in her family. Her grandmother, a pioneering registered nurse in Savannah, served as a beacon of strength and dedication in a field where few women, especially African Americans, ventured at the time. She became the head nurse in the colored ward at the local hospital in Albany. Elaine’s mother, born in Savannah, and later settled in Philadelphia, continued this legacy of education, resilience, and community engagement. She started her career as a schoolteacher before earning a master’s degree in social work, a profession she embraced wholeheartedly.

From 8th through 12th grade, Elaine attended the Palmer Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, a prestigious finishing school for African American young men and women. Under the guidance of Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Elaine thrived in an environment that nurtured intellect, grace, and leadership. She continued her education with fervor, graduating from Drexel University in 1954 with a degree in home economics.

She married Curtis Battles, Sr. in 1954 and embarked on a career as a teacher, until the birth of their oldest child Curtis, Jr. several years later.  Curt Sr. was one of the country’s earliest African American graduates of Harvard Business School.  As a result, he was a trail blazer in corporate finance for many Fortune 500 companies, and the family moved to a variety of different communities with each advancement.

By the time the family settled in Ridgewood, New Jersey, daughter Wendy was a toddler and Elaine began over a decade of active service in that community.  Her dedication to community engagement was consistent over the years she served as a Girl Scout leader, Boy Scout den mother, and advocate for women’s empowerment. In Ridgewood, Elaine played a pivotal role in founding a daycare center and chairing the board of the local YWCA, leaving a legacy of compassion and service in her wake.

She complemented her volunteer pursuits with a distinguished professional career in fundraising and community development.  Her journey to help strengthen academic institutions, communities and the non-profits that serve them led her to various cities across the country, from New York to Minnesota, Illinois to California to Connecticut.  Elaine started by leading a four-town United Way in New Jersey, and then she moved into fundraising in higher education. She shared her skills at the University of Minnesota, University of Illinois, Stanford University and Menlo College. When she “retired” and moved to New Haven, she launched her own consulting firm, working with a plethora of community-based organizations.  Throughout her professional life, Elaine made lasting impacts and left an indelible mark on all the organizations and communities that she served.

Beyond her professional endeavors, Elaine was a lifelong lover of art and culture. She found joy in the vibrant communities of New Haven and Yale, embracing the rich tapestry of music, museums, and the arts that surrounded her. She especially loved opera, classical music, jazz, and live theater. In addition, she could often be found at the Yale Art Gallery, where she was an active member.

Elaine Banks Battles will be remembered for her unwavering spirit, her boundless compassion, and her commitment to making the world a better place. She leaves behind a rich legacy of service, kindness, and love that will continue to inspire all who knew her. She is survived by her loving family: son Curtis (Sheryl) Battles, Jr., daughter Wendy (Bruce Plasse) Battles Plasse, granddaughter Kendall Battles, cousin Lewis Banks, cousin Sheila Wakeley, cousin Maria Greene and many other beloved relatives on the Banks side of the family. Her memory will forever be cherished by the family and friends whose lives she touched.

Learn more about Elaine Battles through this podcast episode:

What if your 80s included ample amounts of art appreciation, community involvement, and pursuing those things that light you up?

What if being 89 meant vibrant living, memoir writing, and inspiring others about what’s possible?

This is the story of my very special guest, my mom, Elaine. ❤️

In addition to mom, I also call her an almost-90 phenom.

She is quite the Reinvention Rebel.

She’s excited about life and new possibilities.

She’s not afraid to carve a new path.

She’s taken cool classes like memoir writing to curate and leave behind our family history.

She’s a patron of the arts, stimulating her mind with new ideas and experiences.

She’s reinvented herself many times in many different ways over the years. And she’s got some wonderful, sage words to share including:

✳️ Why role models are key to her development and her ongoing reinvention journey
✳️ How we can reinvent ourselves throughout our life, no matter our age
✳️ Why reinvention can happen in both big and small ways
✳️ How her curiosity has expanded her life to see new possibilities
✳️ Why you shouldn’t be afraid to take chances
✳️ How she’s leaned into her interests to support her many reinventions

And so many more stories of self-discovery, resilience, and family history.

I couldn’t help but soak up our family stories, learning some new things along the way. We laughed, tried not to cry, and delighted in this shared mother-daughter experience. A precious conversation I’m honored to have had and will always cherish. 🥰

Sit back, lean in, and take a listen to this special episode about what’s possible when we lean into curiosity and approach life with a sense of wonder and appreciation.

Mom reminds me that there are endless possibilities to find joy, practice self-love and lean into our abundant gifts and talents.

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3 comments on “Honoring the Legacy of Elaine Banks Battles – A Life of Curiosity, Community and Connection

  1. Sheila Wakeley says:

    Just listened to the interview with Elaine Battles!! What an inspiration she is to all women who have ridden to waves of life through marriage, relocations, childbearing, career, divorce, and retirement. In fact, she brings new definition to retirement and aging which have often been characterized as boring, reclusive, self-limiting, etc. Instead, she is living her life with energy and excitement–following where her curiosity leads her, even at age 89! Kudos Elaine!!
    Thanks, Wendy Battles-Plasse, for such an engaging interview!!

  2. I honestly can’t remember when I’ve loved a conversation more. Not only have you been given the blessing of such an amazing mom who is so accomplished and inspiring, but you’ve captured her powerful voice and her spirit to carry with you until the end of time. A mother’s love is so special. You have an amazing bond, and it shows. She makes me want to do more, be more, see more, celebrate life more, and love more. Bravo to you two dynamic ladies. This is an episode for the history books!

  3. Calvin Fuller says:

    Your interview with Elaine Battles was one of the most informative and incredible interviews ever! I enjoyed learning more about our family history and have been inspired to do more with my own life. Being actively engaged in various projects after retiring just makes me feel good. Thank you for sharing Wendy, your Podcasts are the best!

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