(Jan. 1, 1916-Nov. 6, 1987). Nellie Gilroy was born in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated cum laude from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, and earned her master’s degree in social work from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. She met Howard F. Gustafson in graduate school. Gilroy was interested in group work, while Gustafson was interested in community organizing. The couple married and had three children: Katherine, Laura, and Howard (Rick). The Gustafsons lived in Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, and the Virgin Islands. In Cleveland, Nellie was director of the East End Neighborhood House and worked with the Cleveland Welfare Federation.

Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) at 329 North Pennsylvania Street, ca. 1970
Credit: City of Indianapolis, Department of Metropolitan Development, Indiana Historical Society

The Gustafsons moved to Indianapolis in 1952 when Howard became executive director of the Community Service Council. Nellie began volunteering in the community for the Girl Scouts and the Parents Teacher Association (PTA). She served as president of the League Of Women Voters and PTA president at Indianapolis Public School 80. She volunteered for United Way and was a member of National Organization for Women, National Association of Negro Women, and the American Civil Liberties Union. She helped to found the Indianapolis Urban League and served as associate director from 1966 to 1975. She also served on the Community Service Council’s family violence task force.

Nellie Gustafson became executive director of the Young Women’s Christian Association Of Indianapolis (YWCA) during a time of change. The YWCA was in temporary quarters. Gustafson led the move to its Guion Road location, facility renovation, membership drives, and expansion of activities.

Gustafson received honors for her work, including being named Woman of the Year by B’nai B’rith and the YWCA. The Christian Theological Seminary honored her with its Outstanding Civic Achievement Award. She received the Indiana Jefferson Award, was named Indiana Social Worker of the Year, and a National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Social Work Pioneer. Both Katherine and Rick became social workers, inspired by their parents’ civic leadership.

Revised February 2021
 

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