A Fitting Tribute:‘Ella’s Army’ Turns Out for Playground Dedication in Peabody

By Seth Daniel

Everett Police Officer Dennis O’Donnell embraced his daughter, Sydney, at the ceremony to honor Ella Jade O’Donnell last Wednesday, July 26, in Peabody. Ella fought a valiant battle against cancer and made many appearances in Everett to visit friends, but lost the battle last November. Her elementary school in Peabody honored her by naming the playground after her, as seen on this memorial.

When Julie Butt of Peabody first made arm bracelets and water bottles to help fundraise for little Ella Jade O’Donnell – the daughter of an Everett police officer – she decided to emboss them with the phrase “Ella’s Army.”

She had no idea the power that she would have conjured up with that phrase and the efforts of so many people that were put forth to help Ella, who passed away from brain cancer last November. From Everett police officers to Everett High athletes to people in Everett City Hall, Ella’s Army stretch from her home in Peabody to all over Everett.

Last Wednesday, when it was time to remember Ella, that Army once again reported for what was a sentimental and fitting tribute to the 10-year-old little girl with so many friends in Everett.

“We were thinking probably 300 people would come out on a Wednesday morning in the summer, but after we did a head count, we realized more than 600 people were there,” said Julie Butt, who is a paraprofessional at Peabody’s South Memorial School who helped Ella every day at school while she was sick. “When I made the arm bands and water bottles and put ‘Ella’s Army’ on them, who would have thought we would have gotten the response we got from people? Never did I think so many kids, so many people and so many in both communities would do what they did to try to help her. It was an army of people.”

Ella was the daughter of Everett Police Officer Dennis O’Donnell and his wife, Erin. She was the sister of Sydney O’Donnell, who unveiled a ballerina statue within the playground as a tribute to Ella.

The new playground at the Peabody school cost $178,000 to build, and the Peabody Community Preservation Committee gave a $70,000 grant to the effort.

Meanwhile, Butt, Council President Anthony DiPierro, Lisa LaMonica and Paul Donovan – and the communities of Everett and Peabody – fundraised more than $100,000 in six month’s time.

A key part of that came from Everett, Butt said, and many aspects of the new playground reflect the effort from Everett people and school students.

“Everything and anything we asked for, Everett was there for us and for Ella,” said Butt.

Mayor Carlo DeMaria stated, “The Cities of Peabody and Everett came together with the family and friends of Ella O’Donnell. She was the light to so many people. There is a saying ‘there is no foot so small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world.’ That is so true of Ella. She was the strength of so many people and she is and will be greatly missed.”

City Council President Anthony DiPierro stated, “Sometimes it takes a very unfortunate circumstance to teach you the value of life. I can certainly say Ella taught me and so many others what was important in life. I know her spirit is alive and well and this playground will keep her memory strong for years to come. We all love and miss you Ella Jade. And we are Ella’s Army forever.”

Butt said she and so many others are left being inspired by Ella’s fight with cancer – how she would push herself to come to school every day or to attend events with her father in Everett.

“She was a trooper,” said Butt. “She wen to school every single day. I was her aid and she would come in right after chemotherapy or radiation treatments. She would come in with a smile on her face…People have colds and don’t want to go to school and you see a little girl fighting for her life and making every effort to be at school and be with her friends and be a normal 10-year-old. She’ll always be my inspiration.”

As a tie between the two communities, the new see-saw contains an Everett Police cruiser and a Peabody Police cruiser on either end.

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