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Tribute to Tim Ellis


Mr. Ellis was a pivotal presence in our music department for nearly 20 years.

Mr. Ellis was a pivotal presence in our music department for 20 years.


Tim Ellis, a twenty-year PAA music teacher and friend to staff, students, and alumni, lost his short and fierce fight with melanoma on March 21, 2016. While PAA grieves with his many colleagues and family, we also remember the exceptional man he was.

Mr. Ellis modeled for all who knew him a fine example of a Christ-centered, character-driven life. He took his craft very seriously as well as his vows and commitments to his family and to God.

Although Tim’s classes had the reputation of being some of the most rigorous on campus, they were consistently popular electives for two decades. That’s because Mr. Ellis had a contagious motivating spirit that inspired learning. His personality electrified the classroom and the students responded with enthusiastic curiosity and drive.

“Some of the best young musicians I know came to Tim’s classroom as scared high school freshmen,” says Pastor Greg Phillips, former PAA Chaplain. “They were barely able to play a chord or two on the guitar. But many of them went on to take three or four years of classes from Tim, rising to a level of proficiency that few achieve.”

“I entered his class knowing barely four chords,” says Morgan Snyder, PAA student. “And now I am one of the music leaders. He is the reason I’m a musician!”


Tim could take a student who care barely play a few chords and turn them into exceptional musicians in four short years. The students in this photograph from several years ago are all fine musicians today.

Tim could take a student who could barely play a few chords and turn them into exceptional musicians in four short years. The students in this photograph from several years ago are all fine musicians today.


“My flute and guitar skills would not be at the level they are without Mr. Ellis,” says Zoe Minden, PAA student. “Being able to tap into his magic abilities to understand and really know music has made me who I am. He expected the best from me. No less.”

“Mr. Ellis didn’t just teach me to play basic guitar,” says student Patrick Marx. “He didn’t stop there. He taught me everything from stacking thirds to 12-bar blues. He gave me the ability to express myself and to share in the expressions of others through music.”

The voices of his students’ tributes aren’t just heard in word. His impeccable musical techniques flow from them as they lead music in chapels, Summit church, class vespers, and Friday evening “Community” worships. They lead the hearts of their classmates to a place of praise as well as reverent communion.


Three generations of Tim Ellis students met in the PAA music studio Tim helped to build. (from left: Jordan Leno, Will Coca, Erik Peterson, and David Olson). They're all very respected musicians and carry on Tim's high standards in all they do.

Three generations of Tim Ellis students met recently to remember their mentor (from left: Jordan Leno, Will Coca, Erik Peterson, and David Olson). They’re all very respected musicians and carry on Tim’s high standards in all they do.


And it doesn’t stop there. In his twenty-year tenure, Mr. Ellis’ impact is seen through the many PAA alumni who are respected for their high standards in music performance, production, mentorship, and leadership.

Some may not realize how far reaching Tim’s influence has been in Adventist communities. From Big Lake Youth Camp music leaders, Walla Walla University music majors, worship leaders for vespers and church at Adventist Universities, and those who have returned home from their education to lead music in their home churches, Tim’s teaching has made waves through our community at large.

“Pleasant Valley Church, is blessed on a regular basis by one of Tim’s former students,” says Pastor Greg. “I love it when Dillon Van Buren plays because it is obvious that he is lifting up worship to God with his guitar. His ability to do that is a testament to Tim’s teaching and mentoring.”

“Tim taught me everything I know about guitar,” says Erik Peterson, former PAA student and recent music major graduate from Warner Pacific College. “I know the music goals I have set and achieved happened because of Tim.”


Lanessa Long shared this photo along with memories from her four years as a Tim Ellis PAA student. She's studying music on a scholarship to The California Art Institute.

Lanessa Long shared this photo along with memories from her four years as a Tim Ellis PAA student. She’s studying music on a scholarship to The California Art Institute.


“I am forever grateful for Tim Ellis,” says Lanessa Long, a young PAA alumna attending California Institute for the Arts on a music scholarship. “I quite literally think of him every day when I’m making music. I was challenged and changed by his presence in my life. Everyday he lived with fire.”

“Tim’s impact at PAA over 20 years of teaching has been profound,” says PAA Chaplain, Monte Torkelsen who has three sons all of whom took Tim’s classes and are now accomplished musicians. “The musicians that he has trained are the obvious fruit of his efforts. But the real fruit of his teaching are the countless students who have been mentored by someone who laughs, works hard, does his best and cares about people. That impact has changed lives.” “It’s so rare to find a man who was involved in such a huge music industry but yet cared so much about mentoring young people in a Christ-like way,” said Linda Neel, recently retired PAA music teacher and friend to Tim.


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Kung Foo Bakery is said to be the best recording studio in the northwest by exceptional musicians.


Besides teaching, Mr. Ellis’ list of accomplishments is long. He wrote and recorded music heard nationally on commercials, movies, and television. His successful recording studio, Kung Foo Bakery, has produced hit records from groups like The Shins, The Decemberists, Pink Martini, Everclear, Laura Whidden – a home-grown Adventist musician, and many more.  It is haled by professional musicians as being the best studio in the northwest, many of whom personally sought after Tim as a producer. “Tim wasn’t at PAA because he needed the work,” says Pastor Greg. “He chose to be at PAA because he made an intentional decision to impact students, calling them to step up and strive for excellence in music and in life. For us to have a man and musician of Tim’s stature on our campus every day – incredible!”

“He showed the kids you can be a professional musician and be a spiritual, devoted, family man,” says Linda. “He led music in his church, he raised six kids, was a good husband and dad, and was so well rounded, too!”

“He wasn’t the type to preach a sermon,” says Pastor Greg. “He usually let his guitar do the talking. But he played for God, and he had a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.”

“He never let me give up on myself,” said Patrick. “He believed in me when I did not.”

The power of Tim’s belief lives on.

“We can’t deny that life is really hard at times,” says Pastor Monte. “This has been one of those times. All of us at PAA are broken hearted about Tim’s death. But we know that we will laugh with him again and maybe even have some time to take some guitar training from him in heaven.”

“He lived his life to the fullest and found beauty in each individual day,” says Zoe. “He will always shine through the lives he’s touched. I’m so very, very fortunate to be one of them.”

“The pain and loss we feel personally might be dampened somewhat by the healing God encourages us to bring into the lives of others,” said Principal Dan Nicola when he shared the news of Tim’s death with Tim’s PAA family during spring break. “Tim leaves a legacy of such caring acts and we do honor to his memory by carrying them on. It’s good news that we can look forward to the day very soon when we will once again hear him plucking his strings, sharing his beautiful music for all of heaven to hear.”

“Between now and then, let’s press together and love, encourage, and comfort one another,” says Pastor Greg. “Choose to live like Tim. Mentor someone. Give your talents freely to people who can’t pay you what you’re worth. See the best in people and push them really hard to excel. Jam with kids. Don’t be a slacker. Live your passion. Embrace your faith in God, serve your church, and trust Jesus as your rock and salvation. By making the choice to live like Tim, we keep his legacy alive!”

More about Tim: 

Aaron Myers video with Tim teaching kids guitar: https://www.facebook.com/aaron.meyer.585/posts/10154666934120968?fref=nf

Young Alumnus and exceptional Tim Ellis student, Will Johnson worked tirelessly on his Senior Project produced entirely in PAA’s music studio: https://paasda.org/news/outstanding-senior-project/

Laura Whidden, an Adventist musician recorded her last album with Tim in the producer’s chair:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlgyvykZNeI

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