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When you pause to look at the life of Mary Kay Shell, two phrases stand out — breaking boundaries and serving the community.
During her storied career, Mary Kay Shell was unafraid to move into areas not traditionally held by women. She started work in her grandfather’s welding and auto repair shop and at 17 became a cub reported for the Bakersfield Californian, and other male dominated field, and continued in journalism until the 1980’s.
She also had a strong desire to learn to fly and became the dispatcher at La Cresta Airfield in order to pay for lessons, earning a pilot’s license.
She was the first woman to serve as Mayor of the city of Bakersfield and only the second to serve as a county supervisor.
During her political career she was known for winning elections when the political odds were against her, and upon her retirement from public office, the Bakersfield Californian called her “the most popular politician in Kern County history”.
During her time in office and after, Ms. Shell dedicated herself to serving our community and improving life for all who live in Bakersfield.
Included in these accomplishments are the founding of the Beautiful Bakersfield Committee, the formation of an organization to build a memorial to Medal of Honor recipient Larry Pierce, creating the Bakersfield Historical Preservation Commission, establishing the annual Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast, and her personally most memorable achievement, the building of a lighted soccer field in an underserved area of the city in coordination with AYSO.
Her work has been recognized in the naming of the Mary K. Shell Journalism Scholarship and the Mary K. Shell Mental Health Facility. You might recognize Ms. Shell as a community participant picking up trash in vacant lots, the mayor who took on Johnny Carson over his disparaging comments about Bakersfield, or as a valued member of the Bakersfield College Foundation.
Her life has been an example of both success and public service, and while Bakersfield College would love to claim responsibility for molding her into the woman she became, at the very least, we can very proudly point to her as an example of an alum whom our current students would be wise to emulate.