Clarence Shelley

Shelley, Clarence

Clarence Shelley was born in Detroit, Michigan on August 16, 1931. He was the fourth child of Grady Shelley and Alma (Jones) Shelley. He graduated from Miller High School, where he discovered a passion for great literature and a talent for writing that he channeled into his editorials for the school newspaper. After graduation, he was a dock worker with the Merchant Marines and on cruise ships throughout the Great Lakes.

He was accepted to Wayne State University, where he majored in journalism before deciding to become a high school English teacher. He was a member of the Alpha Beta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, before his college education was interrupted with service in the U.S. Army. Clarence served from 1952-1954, before being honorably discharged. Then, he returned to Wayne State, joined the football team, and received a B.A. in English in 1957. Over the next 10 years, he taught English and Speech at Detroit’s Northeastern High school, where his students included future Motown legends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and members of the Miracles. He also earned a M.A. in Education in 1965. Teaching led to opportunities to counsel and mentor students, and to advise administrators at the Detroit Board of Education, The Cranbrook School (Michigan), Wayne State University, and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He subsequently developed programs to facilitate the admission and retention of minority students in colleges and universities throughout the Midwest.

In 1968, after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Chancellor Jack Peltason at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign invited Clarence to run a new program to support African American students. Here, Mr. Shelley organized one of the nation's earliest and certainly the largest minority student recruitment efforts. He was named Dean of Students in 1974, Assistance Vice Chancellor in 1984, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, before his first retirement in 2001. He also served as special assistant to the chancellor, continuing to develop cultural programming and acting as an ambassador to African American students and alumni until 2016. His commitment to higher educational access ad opportunity for first-generation, low-income and African American students also included contributing to academic research, professional training materials, and other publications.

He was an adviser to African American Young Men Moving, and served as chapter adviser to Beta chapter, Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Inc. for 25 years. He has served on several national educational committees, many of which focus on higher educational access and opportunity for low-income and minority students. Among his publications are The Impact of Black Students on Predominantly White Campuses, The Once and Future Status of Black Professionals in Higher Education, Staff Development: A Training Module for Special Services Staff, and "Telling Stories: Students and Administrators Talk About Retention" in Leveling the Playing Field: Promoting Academic Success for Students of Color. He received numerous awards and citations for his service to higher education, with a special interest in advocacy for those groups that remain underrepresented in American colleges and universities. In 2002, he was awarded the Chancellor's Medallion for service to the Campus. Clarence was one of 18 “remarkable individuals who triggered innovation at the University of Illinois and beyond” featured in its 150th anniversary publication.

Clarence Shelley passed away on January 17, 2022.

He and his wife, Sharon Ornsby-Shelley, were married for 23 years. Together, they enjoyed theater, film, football, and train travel, while sharing their love with their two children and numerous grandchildren.