Mary Ellen McNally grew up working in her parents’ Italian restaurant in Scranton, Pa., serving the clientele at Popoli’s Restaurant. Later on, as a college student, she waitressed at restaurants in the Catskills. Little wonder that she’s one of Colorado Springs’ most active community servants.
“I grew up in the restaurant business,” she said. “It’s all about customer service.”
McNally didn’t stray far from home for college, attending East Stroudsburg Teachers College in Pennsylvania. But when she married Mike McNally, her journey west began. The couple decided that Colorado Springs looked like a good place to settle. Mary Ellen ran successfully for City Council and for the District 11 School Board. Meantime, she was a tireless fundraiser and volunteer for a staggering number of charities over the years. She became the go-to events planner around town, staging fundraisers large and small. Every nonprofit board wanted her; she’s currently on eight.
“I think today people look at me as a committed community volunteer,” she says. “That’s because when I take on a task, I finish that task in the best way possible.”
Her passions are working with organizations that serve those with developmental disabilities, and all things educational. “I mainly just preach community involvement,” she says. “When people ask me, ‘What can I do?’ I tell them to first find their passion, and then they’ll know what they need to do.”
Her husband passed away in 2008, leaving behind a legacy of medical and philanthropic service to the community. Today, Mary Ellen carries on the work they started together all those years ago when they first came to the Front Range.
Her very favorite fundraiser is an auction item — the “home-cooked Italian dinner” — that she co-hosts in her home with Women of Influence co-honoree Laura Muir. She and Muir handle all the prep work in her kitchen for a huge Italian dinner cooked by Muir’s fiance, Lou Mellini. Serving up those plates of pasta takes Mary Ellen McNally right back to her childhood at Popoli’s Restaurant in Scranton — which, by the way, is now called Sal’s, and is run by her sister.