Former SBU president passes away
Sells remembered with great respect
BOLIVAR – Jim Sells, former president and chancellor of Southwest Baptist University (SBU) and one of Missouri Baptists’ most beloved fundraisers, died Sunday, Nov. 25, in Bolivar. He was 79.
Sells was westbound on Forest Street here at 9:36 a.m., when he failed to make the curve at the intersection of North Oakland Avenue, the Bolivar Herald-Free Press reported in its Nov. 26 edition, citing a Bolivar Police report. A witness told police that Sells’ 2007 Chevrolet Silverado traveled through a median and down a gravel driveway, where it struck a parked 1995 Ford Pickup.
When police and paramedics arrived, they found Sells in respiratory distress. He was taken to Citizens Memorial Hospital, where he later died, according to the Herald-Free Press.
Sells was named director of academic affairs at SBU in 1965. He became the 21st president of the university in 1968 and was named chancellor in 1979, a position he held until 1992. Sells was involved with several community projects in Bolivar, including the Citizens Memorial Healthcare, the Polk County Library and the Bolivar YMCA.
Sells most recently was under contract with the Missouri Baptist Convention in establishing a development office. He was deeply involved in the negotiations that led to the potential sale of the Baptist Building and the relocation of the convention to California, Mo.
C. Pat Taylor, SBU president, called Sells “a hero” to SBU.
“For 12 years, he provided SBU with leadership as president and then for 12 years as chancellor. During his 24-year tenure, Dr. Sells saw the institution through the transition from a college to a university, the development of signature graduate programs, and a significant increase in enrollment. In addition, many of the current buildings on campus were built under his leadership.
“Much of the success we have enjoyed at SBU during recent years is due to the foundation Dr. Sells established. This university owes Dr. Jim Sells a debt of gratitude. Our prayers and thoughts are with the Sells children and grandchildren,” Taylor said.
Sells was born Aug. 21, 1928, in Sesser, Ill. He is survived by two sons: Scott Alan Sells and his wife, Nancy, of Woodland Park, Colo., and Ben Raymond Sells and his wife, Lisa, of Upland, Ind.; two daughters, Jane Siebert and her husband, Timothy, of Springfield; Janice Glover and her husband, David, of Warrensburg; one brother, Sam Sells and his wife, Shirley, of Campbell, Calif.; a sister, Mary Lou Curran and her husband, Bob, of Georgetown, Texas; and 14 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Joyce M. Sells, on Feb. 16.
“Nobody knew more about fundraising for Baptist colleges and universities than Jim Sells,” said R. Phillip Roberts, president, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “He was an enormous help to Midwestern. I learned more about development and institutional advancement from Jim Sells than I have from anyone. I am deeply indebted to Jim for his service to our school. He will be deeply missed.”
David Tolliver, Missouri Baptist Convention executive director, knew Sells when he was SBU president.
“As a student back in the 1970s, I admired him as SBU’s president and was in awe later in life to work along his side and be mentored by him,” Tolliver said. “He was a larger-than-life guy to me.”
The funeral was Nov. 28 at First Baptist Church, Bolivar.
The family suggests contributions in memory of Sells to the Southwest Baptist University or the Citizen’s Memorial Hospital, both in Bolivar.