A League of Her Own
Photography by RANDALL LYVERS
ELLEN BOLCH is aging like a fine wine. Although there is just one variety that suits her palate. “I only drink champagne, darling!” Bolch exclaims, noting the best bubbles in town are found at Artillery, 14 floors below and across the street from our table at the Chatham Club.
“You know, the Chatham Club and the Rotary Club were traditionally men’s clubs,” Bolch says, adjusting the artfully bejeweled beetles on her left shoulder. “When they were thinking of admitting women, the chair called me and said, ‘Ellen, you think like a man, so you should join.’”
A determined paradigm buster, Bolch assented, eager to bust up the boys’ clubs, and in 2023, many years and female patrons later, Ellen will serve as the Chatham Club president — the second woman appointed to the role, following Dolly Chisholm. (Bolch is also a member of the Rotary Club and has previously served as president.)
“I have tried to stir up a little bit of trouble on behalf of women,” Bolch says. “When I graduated high school, my parents asked me if I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse.” With just two options before her, she chose nursing.
“I loved the fact that I was raised to be a Southern lady, but I also felt that no one in my social circle really supported bright women and what they wanted to do,” Bolch remembers. “After that, I decided I was not going to let anyone tell me what to do.”
Ellen took her aspirations far from home, receiving a master’s degree in advanced nursing practices and healthcare administration from Penn State.
“I considered Savannah very provincial,” Bolch says. “Ten years later, I realized just what a gorgeous community I was from. I wanted to go back.”
After returning, Bolch made waves at Memorial Health University Medical Center (now Memorial Health), working her way up from nurse practitioner to Vice President of Provident Health Systems and CEO of Advanced Alternatives — a successful home health venture Bolch expanded into multiple states with 200 locations and more than 8,000 employees.
Then, she founded THA Group in 1995, a cutting-edge group of companies specializing in all aspects of in-home health care and vital sign elemonitoring. “We’re all about giving you a little bit of help so you can age in place,” Bolch says.
Eager to offer aid beyond THA Group, Bolch serves on the Board of Curators for the Georgia Historical Society and as a board member for Bethesda Union Society (she was the third female to serve in this role, following Jenny-Lynn Bradley and Alice Jepson). She received an Honorary Doctorate from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2018 for her community leadership, service and philanthropy, and, in 2019, she became the first female chair of United Way of the Coastal Empire’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society Committee. Best of all, at the organization’s Women Who Rule luncheon earlier this year, Bolch earned their highest honor: Woman of the Year.
Her next philanthropic goal? Getting more millennials involved in Savannah’s venerable charities. “I want to see our community take care of itself,” Bolch says. Quoting the Dalai Lama, she adds: “‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.’”
A brilliant smile turns up the corners of her magenta-painted lips. “Forget the mosquito. I am a gnat, and I can be so pesky!”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Bolch was the first woman appointed to the roles of Chatham Club president and board chair of the Bethesda Union Society.