BOLIVAR —James Sells, former president and chancellor of Southwest Baptist University, died Nov. 25 at the age of 79.
Sells apparently suffered a massive heart attack while driving in Bolivar on Sunday morning and struck another vehicle. He was rushed to Citizens Memorial Hospital in Bolivar, where he later died.
Sells went to SBU in 1965 as the director of academic affairs and became the school’s 21st president three years later. In 1979, he was named chancellor, a position he held until 1992, when he was dismissed by the board of trustees, reportedly for his interference in the selection of a new university president.
Sells also headed the SBU Advancement Foundation.
He was born Aug. 21, 1928, in Sesser, Ill., to James Vernon and Erma Eunice Hatcher Sells. He married Joyce M. Wayne on June 2, 1951. She preceded him in death earlier this year, on Feb. 16.
Survivors include two sons, Scott Allen Sells of Woodland Park, Colo., and Ben Raymond Sells of Upland, Ind.; two daughters, Jane Siebert of Springfield and Janice Glover of Warrensburg; a brother, Sam Sells of Campbell, Calif.; a sister, Mary Lou Curran of Georgetown, Texas; and 14 grandchildren.
Funeral services were held on Nov. 28 at First Baptist Church of Bolivar, where he was a member. Burial was in Crestview Memorial Gardens, east of Bolivar. The family suggested contributions in his memory to SBU or to Citizen’s Memorial Hospital.
Sells attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale before serving in the Army during the Korean Conflict. When he returned, he pursued graduate studies at Columbia University in New York.
Later, Sells was a teacher and coach at the University of California at Davis. After five years, he became an administrator at the University of New York in Buffalo.
“Dr. Jim Sells is one of the heroes of Southwest Baptist University,” SBU president C. Pat Taylor said in a statement.
"For 12 years, he provided SBU with leadership as president and then for 12 years as chancellor," Taylor said. "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.”
The former SBU leader also took an active role in the development of Citizens Memorial Hospital. In October, he was honored with the hospital’s Donald J. Babb Award for his support of the health care system. He began programs for physical therapy, nursing and health care management at SBU.
Earlier this year, Sells provided consultative assistance to the Missouri Baptist Convention as it sought to find a market for and to sell the aging Baptist Building in downtown Jefferson City. He also had been involved recently in fund-raising for a pregnancy center in Springfield.