Ella Stimpson


I learned a lot about leading people in the Army, a lot about mentoring people as a teacher, then a lot about motivating people as a personal trainer. All three of these things are merged in the spa industry.
I learned a lot about leading people in the Army, a lot about mentoring people as a teacher, then a lot about motivating people as a personal trainer.

Director of Spa, Fitness and Racquet Sports, Sea Island Company, Georgia
ISPA Chairman - 2011, 2012

There are a few, if any, better windows into racial prejudice and civil rights struggle that dominated American south in the 1960’s than To Kill a Mockingbird. For former ISPA Chairman Ella Stimpson, the story is as real as it is a part of who she is.

As a young child in Alabama when desegregation started and as a mid-schooler in Florida when bussing was implemented, Ella witnessed the struggle for civil rights first-hand. While her father wasn’t quite Atticus Finch, he wasn’t that far off either. “He was a Baptist minister but also a progressive, enlightened thinker. His integrity and willingness to stand up for what he believed in formed a lifelong passion for fairness and respect for others in me.”Being a member of a Baptist minister’s family meant a transient childhood for Ella, particularly as her father had not yet completed his own education when she was born. Her family moved from her birth state of Alabama to Tennessee, to North Carolina, then finally to Florida.

As a minister’s child, Ella perhaps felt the pressure to excel in school more than most. “My father always treated me like his intellectual peer, so I was exposed to grown-up conversation from a very early age.” A child with that sort of upbringing might well find school easy.

The transient childhood probably also explains, at least partly, Ella’s career decisions. A Political Science degree followed by interning for a politician and a lawyer left her disillusioned by politics and law, so what better way to see the world (and get paid for doing it) than to join the military.

“I was rejected by the Peace Corps and the Navy, so without having any idea what I was getting myself into or knowing how to do a pushup, I joined the Army. “

Ella’s description makes it sound like a walk in the park. But just joining the Army as a woman, was no mean feat in the early 1980’s.

Officer Candidate School had only begun accepting female recruits the year before Ella turned up. For Ella, the challenge of beating the boys at their own game was too good to pass up.

After service in the demilitarized zone in South Korea as one of about 18,000 troops stationed there, “all but 200 were men,” and a move to military intelligence, Ella found herself married to a fellow officer—and unexpectedly pregnant.

Deciding that motherhood and military life were not compatible, she left the Army after five years and re-trained as a teacher. “Military wives are moved around like cattle, so when my husband’s unit was deployed to Germany I found myself at a loose end.” As is often the case, the door that opened for Ella was the one marked “spa.”

Keeping herself fit and active has always been a major part of Ella’s life, so working as a personal trainer was a natural progression—and one that required a less than perfect ability to speak German. When her family moved next, to Washington D.C., Ella discovered that the fitness industry was exploding and she could make more money in fitness than she could in teaching.

Her 15-year association with ISPA began almost as soon as she began her spa career, as did her love of our ISPA Conference. “It was great to meet people who were having the same struggles as I was, people who were part of a much larger community. I also learned hard skills I was lacking, more than just people managing skills that I already had. This community is even more important to me now than ever, especially as I am now living and working in Georgia.”

Ella’s background allows her to bring out the best in the disparate groups of people in the spa industry—massage therapists, aestheticians, and trainers—without compromising her core beliefs. “I learned a lot about leading people in the Army, a lot about mentoring people as a teacher, then a lot about motivating people as a personal trainer. All three of these things are merged in the spa industry.”

Back to core beliefs. “I’m an eternal optimist. When I see what my children and many of their peers have accomplished in their early 20s, I have great hope for the future.” Thanks to the influence of people like Ella, we are just as optimistic as she is.


I learned a lot about leading people in the Army, a lot about mentoring people as a teacher, then a lot about motivating people as a personal trainer. All three of these things are merged in the spa industry.