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Sara Ellis Calhoun Felton James, born October 14, 1923, passed away on October 3 in Jacksonville, Florida in the company of her devoted family.
The third daughter of Benjamin Jurell Calhoun and Eunice Neville Calhoun, Sara Ellis was born in the home of her maternal grandparents in Bullock County, Georgia. Her long life, only eleven days shy of a century, was rooted in a grand circle of family ----- grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and many cousins. She was raised by loving parents in Baxley, Georgia, where she began a life-long faith journey which sustained her throughout her life. As an avid reader filled with intellectual curiosity, she achieved academic excellence, joined the First Batist Church of Baxley, and was selected as the Maid of Cotton for her county. Her striking beauty and innate charm enabled her to win a beauty contest at age 16, including a week’s visit to New York City and a stop at the 1939 World’s Fair. Upon graduation from Baxley High School, she attended Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville. While still in her teens, she accepted a blind date with an Oglethorpe University student, Carle Felton of Richmond, Virginia, who would forever change her life.
After a wartime courtship and volumes of love letters, Sara Ellis married Lt. Carle Ashby Felton in 1944. Theirs was a match of mutual devotion and profound joy. Following Carle’s service with the Army Air Corps as a bombardier in Europe during WWII, the young couple settled in Orangeburg, SC. It was during these post-war years that Sara Ellis gave birth to their two sons, Carle Ashby Felton, Jr. and Daniel Calhoun Felton. She adored her boys and relished sharing her love of history, of poetry and of traditional Southern meals with them.
With the sudden, untimely death of her husband, Carle, in 1955, Sara Ellis demonstrated personal courage and a spirit of determination as a single parent and sole provider for her two young sons. The family returned to her hometown, Baxley, where her supportive parents played an essential role in this transition. After enrolling in business school and securing a job, Sara Ellis won the support of Mayor Buck Dunn to begin a program of perpetual care at Baxley’s Omega Cemetery.
Eventually Sara Ellis remarried a career naval officer, Lt. Cmdr. William B. James, also a WWII veteran. The family moved to Jacksonville, FL, where Will was stationed until his retirement in 1972. The couple chose to spend their retirement in Savannah, GA, returning to the bosom of her Georgia family. They shared 42 years of marriage until Will’s death in 2000.
Savannah offered many opportunities for civic involvement for Sara Ellis. Among her most rewarding engagements was serving for twenty-six years as chairman of floral design for the annual NOGS Tour and Tea sponsored by the Garden Club of Savannah. The sumptuous floral arrangements, which Sara Ellis and her mother, Eunice Calhoun, created for the elegant tour homes became legendary, and generated a feature article in the Savannah Morning News. Before leaving Savannah in 2012 to be near her sons in Jacksonville, FL, Sara Ellis was awarded a life-time membership in the Garden Club. For her 90th birthday, the Garden Club honored her with an engraved brick placed in the walkway of the Savannah Botanical Gardens.
A favorite outlet for Sara Ellis’ considerable creative energy and artistry was fashioning Chrismon ornaments to decorate the towering Christmas tree inside First Baptist Church of Savannah, where she was an active member for over forty years. Her hands were often busy designing handmade lace pillows or creating original shell jewelry and lamps. She enthusiastically decorated her home for each season of the year in addition to the handsome floral arrangements placed throughout her home. By example she inspired her family to reach high in every endeavor and to always persevere.
The family is deeply grateful to a host of caregivers and extraordinary friends in Savannah and Jacksonville who faithfully provided patient, tender care through many years of health challenges. We have been blessed by your generosity.
In addition to her parents and her two husbands, Sara Ellis was preceded in death by her sister Ardelia Calhoun Reese.
She is survived by her two sons, Carle Ashby Felton, Jr. (Nancy) and Daniel Calhoun Felton (Jean Frank), Jacksonville; her sister Eunice Calhoun Harris, Jacksonville; her brother-in law E.K. James, Maryland; her two grandchildren Carle Ashby Felton, III, Atlanta and Lauren Belote Felton (Josh Cleveland), London; and five great-grandchildren: Jackson Taylor Felton, Benjamin Arnall Felton, Caroline Delaney Felton of Atlanta; Quentin Xavier Cleveland and Ezra Iris Cleveland of London; seven nephews and two nieces.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the North Florida School of Special Education, 223 Mill Creek Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32211 or through the school website.
A service in celebration of her life will be held at 2:30pm on Sunday, October 8, 2023, at First Baptist Church of Baxley, Georgia, 15 N. Main St., 31513, with the Reverend Dr. John Finley and Rev. Fred Anderson officiating. Immediately following the service, the interment will be at Omega Cemetery in Baxley. Everyone is invited to a reception at Swain Funeral Home following the committal service.
Arrangements are being handled by Swain Funeral Home, 1632 Hatch Parkway N., Baxley, Georgia 31513.