The story of Miss Ettie Lee reads like a true American success story. A high-school teacher who had a dream to start "homes" for troubled young men becomes a real estate success and uses her fortune to change children’s lives.
Ettie Lee was born in Luna, New Mexico, where she grew up as one of twelve children. In 1917, after earning her master’s degree, Ettie began teaching English in the Los Angeles high school system. She was highly disturbed by the fact that some of her brightest students were ending up in jail. Ettie noted that these at-risk boys were from a common mold – all came from broken or otherwise troubled homes. The answer seemed obvious: to cure delinquency, provide the boys with happy homes. But, no agency offered anything like that, so Ettie Lee decided to be like the Little Red Hen and "do it herself."
In 1927, Ettie began by buying and selling Los Angeles real estate, using techniques learned from a library book. Her salary at the time was under $200 a month. She lived on less than $100 and saved the rest. Her first property was a vacant lot, bought for $1000 and sold for $5000.
Then, with wide-eyed enthusiasm, she began buying homes. Soon she had nine single-family dwellings, always offering a bit more than the market price in return for a low down payment. The book said the rentals would keep up the payments and she would be on her way to wealth.
Ettie continued to parlay her holdings through the Depression. During World War II, when she returned temporarily to teaching, she purchased five ranches for future at-risk boys’ homes. In 1946, Ettie retired from teaching to devote full time to starting her agency. Finally, by 1950, she was ready to start operating.
Our first home was purchased in August of 1950. We began placing young men in 1951. Her vision was to have home parents – a married couple with experience working with children – live with the young boys on a ranch and give them love, understanding and support while teaching them how to become productive citizens. Although Ettie Lee Youth and Family Services no longer employs home parent couples, the last couple, Dean and Kathy Binks retired in 2012, were hired by Ettie Lee over 30 years ago.
Ettie Lee’s accomplishments have been recognized by a variety of organizations. She was named Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year in 1965; National Teacher of the Year in 1966, and Brigham Young University’s Woman of the Year in 1967.
On April 25, 1974, the life of Miss Ettie Lee came to a close. At the age of 88, she had accomplished more than most. We still continue her vision today through our services.