Shirley Brussell, EX’42

1993 Recipient of the Edith Abbott Award

Past Award Winners

The following is taken from SSA Magazine, February 2001. Note: Mrs. Brussell died in October, 2014.


Shirley Brussell, EX ’42, was in her 50s when her last child left for college and she decided to return to the workforce.

“Everyone said, ‘There’s no opportunity for you, Shirley. You’ve been out of the workforce for 20 years. You’ll never make it.’”

They were wrong.

She finished her master’s degree and founded Operation ABLE (Ability Based on Long Experience), a nonprofit organization aimed at serving the employment and training needs of people over 55. Today, at 80, she still serves as executive director of Operation ABLE. Shirley Brussell has held that position since the organization was founded in 1977 through a grant from the Chicago Community Trust. In addition to start-up money, the Trust provided invaluable technical assistance and inspired leadership. Over the years, however, because of a changing economy, Operation ABLE has expanded its mission to include career counseling, training programs, and job-search workshops to job seekers of all ages.

Life for older workers in today’s booming economy is different than it was for their counterparts during the recessionary 1980s. Then, companies were laying off workers over 50, not hiring them.

Today, the tight labor market is increasing demand for older workers, whom employers now see as more experienced, stable, and reliable than their younger counterparts. Older workers serve as good role models for younger workers.

“There is a much greater tolerance and appreciation of the mature person. When we first opened our doors, we had to sell the virtues of older workers. We put all kinds of commercials on the air and coined catchy phrases to get the message out: ‘Experience works’ and ‘55 is the speed limit, not the age limit,’” said the irrepressible Ms. Brussell.

In 1993, Shirley Brussell was named the Edith Abbott Award winner, one of SSA’s prestigious awards to alumni for distinguished service to society and for outstanding professional contributions. This award is one of many that are hung on the walls of Ms. Brussell’s office, honoring Shirley Brussell’s and Operation ABLE’s commitment to older workers. Ms. Brussell is also a member of SSA’s Visiting Committee.

Operation ABLE’s web site with job listings and services is located at http://www.nationalable.org/

Ms. Brussell passed away October, 2014.

Jelani McEwen

Jelani McEwen, AM '13

When Jelani McEwen begins his new job as Charter Support Manager of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools upon graduation from the School of Social Service Administration in June 2013, in some ways he will have come full circle.