Former Mayor Wooten dies at 89
Former Merced Mayor Ellie Wooten passed away at home in the community of Cameron Park in El Dorado County on the morning of April 29. Her two daughters were by her side, holding her hands. Wooten was 89.
Local residents will remember Wooten as the no-nonsense, sometimes outspoken leader at City Hall and a friendly Realtor who kept smiling and promoting the town even in the most difficult times.
She was a strong supporter of bringing UC Merced to town, and indeed, her two-term run as Mayor started the same year the University of California opened its newest campus here. Also in 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recognized Wooten as the Business Woman of the Year.
Wooten was an early advocate of large infrastructure projects that would change the landscape of Merced, including the G Street Underpass and the Campus Parkway Project, which today is in its final stages of completion.
She, of course, was no stranger to headlines, but her firecracker personality and openness would provide her with some notable recognition for a local politician. She once made the dramatic lead of a New York Times article entitled “The Ruins Of The Housing Bust” during the crisis of 2008. At the time, Merced had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country.
Her run as mayor ended during the depths of the Great Recession, and the subsequent periods of social unrest that followed. She did make one final appearance in the audience of a Merced City Council meeting in 2012 where she yelled at several unruly Occupy Merced protesters. It appeared at that moment, at least to this reporter, that Wooten had come back from a drastically different time when Council meetings were more cordial affairs.
Nevertheless, Wooten always carried herself with great confidence. That same year, she appeared in the coffee-table book “Chicks With Guns” by Lindsay McCrum. Yes, Wooten described herself as a card-carrying, lifetime member of the NRA. She was photographed by McCrum in her living room as she held a Taurus Titanium .38 and surrounded by dolls and stuffed animals. She agreed to participate in the portrait book because she wanted to show that “women have the same abilities with firearms as men do.”
Also in 2012, Wooten would move to Cameron Park to be closer to family members. She became a resident of Cameron Park Mobile Estates and actively participated in activities and even organized outings and trips for fellow seniors. She also became an ambassador for the Shingle Springs-Cameron Park Chamber of Commerce, an active member of the Newcomers Club, and a Leading Knight for the local Elks Club. She even stayed in politics, so to speak, when in 2017 she was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Cameron Park Community Services District Board of Directors. She was elected to a four-year term by residents in 2019.
“Mom stayed busy up to her end,” said Elaine Wright, Wooten’s daughter, during a phone call with the Times this week. “It wasn’t in her DNA to take a break. … She had a long and beautiful life, and for that we are so grateful.”
Ellie Wooten was born Ellamae Joy Wooten in San Francisco on Dec. 29, 1933.
In addition to her previously mentioned accomplishments, she has held top local and regional positions with the Board of Realtors. She is a longtime member of the Elks Club, including the local Merced chapter. She also served as Vice President to the American Legion Auxiliary, Merced Post 83.
She is preceded in death by her husband Harvey Wooten, and her son Craig.
She is survived by daughters Elaine Wright and Troy Petersen, and son Steve Wooten, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Ellie’s ashes were laid to rest in Turlock this week. A Celebration of Life is planned in Cameron Park, at the Cameron Park Mobile Estates, 2681 Cameron Park Drive, on July 15, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friends from Merced are invited to attend. They plan on having a potluck lunch and a memorial bingo game — because Ellie loved Bingo!