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Over 12 Clark County schools get gifts from Henderson philanthropists

Updated December 21, 2018 - 6:15 pm

On the first day of school, Bob Ellis made Kelly Elementary School Principal Aliana Criner a promise that nearly brought her to tears.

This week Ellis delivered on that promise. And boy, did he deliver.

He delivered sea monster pirate sets, Hot Wheels energy tracks, scooters, shoes and computer tablets. He delivered Santa and a merry group of elves. And for many of Criner’s 400 or so students at the Las Vegas school, he and his wife, Sandy, delivered the largest Christmas gift they will get this year.

“It’s nice, cool, excellent,” said 11-year-old fifth-grader Isiah Smartt, who got one of the tablets.

Each of the students was given a new toy from the couple, philanthropists who live in Henderson and sponsor more than a dozen Clark County schools each year for the holidays, providing a new pair of socks, shoes and a new toy to each child. They also support schools throughout the year with donations to principals, to be spent how they see fit. Criner used her $10,000 check this year to buy supplies and materials for her students.

“It’s so much fun to watch these kids,” Sandy Ellis said, standing to the side as children jumped and screamed and almost stormed the school’s stage in excitement. “This makes Christmas a lot more fun.”

Students also put on their new shoes, which were delivered before the assembly so Bob and Sandy could see the kids try them on in person.

“I’m going to wear them when I run; they’re very comfortable,” said 9-year-old Armoni Greene, who also received a scooter from the Ellises.

The students’ gifts were rounded out with bright green slingback bags donated by Geico and some gift baskets of oranges and fortune cookies from the local chapter of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance.

This is the 14th year the couple, both 76, have played Santa Claus to underprivileged students in Southern Nevada. The whole extravanganza, which takes place over two weeks before the winter break, costs around $250,000 each year.

To honor the Ellises, Criner put on a production. Students sang Christmas carols, including a schoolwide rendition of “Feliz Navidad,” and local dignitaries — including Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara — addressed the children.

‘People ought to help’

Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, after reminding students to study over winter break, made a Christmas wish of his own.

“I wish we had about 4,000 more Mr. and Mrs. Ellises to spread around the Clark County School District,” he said.

It’s a sentiment Bob Ellis has brought up before.

“There is so much money in this town,” he said. “People ought to open up and help these schools.”

Ellis is the former president and CEO of Snap Towing, and he owned B&E Auto Auction before selling it a decade ago. He now owns R&S Investment Properties and R&S Leasing.

The Ellises have lived in the Las Vegas Valley since the 1950s. Bob graduated from Rancho High School in Las Vegas, while Sandy attended Basic High School in Henderson. Bob’s alma mater has been the beneficiary of the couple’s generosity, too, including a $50,000 donation to help homeless students.

In addition to the gratitude for their efforts to spread holiday cheer, the Ellises now have a public school named after them on Beltrada Avenue and Via Italia, which opened this year.

The school doesn’t have the quite the same needs as most of the schools the Ellises serve, but inspired by their namesake, students and families at the Ellis school raised enough money to buy a new pair of shoes for every student at Kit Carson Elementary School.

“They’re even got some left over for next year,” Bob Ellis said of the drive.

Matt Kelly wasn’t the only school the Ellises added to their list this year. In October, Ellis read a report in the Review-Journal about tiny McDermitt High School’s football team. Inspired, Ellis reached out to the school, which straddles the Nevada-Oregon border.

He sent money to the school, and Andy Hafen, the former mayor of Henderson and a friend of the Ellises, drove a truck halfway to McDermitt, before passing off a load of shoes, socks and toys to a driver for the final leg of the journey.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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