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Shell, Mary K.

First Woman Elected to the Office of Mayor, City of Bakersfield

Mary K. Shell is the daughter of Mary Ellen and Walter Jaynes. She is a native daughter with a long and distinguished record of service to  the citizens of Bakersfield. She began her professional career in a non-traditional role for women of the time as a reporter for the Bakersfield Californian. In 1946, she left that position and moved into another predominately male bastion. It seems the resourceful Miss Jaynes wanted to learn to fly an airplane. She knew her parents would not fund such an enterprise, so she decided to pay for it herself. Shell became a flight dispatcher at the La Cresta Airfield, which was located in the area of the Panorama bluffs. During her years as a dispatcher, Mary K. earned a pilot’s license and she maintains it to date.

For the next two decades Mary K. devoted her time and talents to a number of pursuits. She first served as a reporter-photographer and then as the editor for the News Bulletin, a semi-weekly newspaper serving metropolitan Bakersfield. It was during this time that she married Joseph C. Shell, an independent oil operator, who also had been a member of the California State Assembly and a GOP candidate for Governor in 1962. Mary became active in a number of civic organizations and raised a family.

In 1970 she went back to her first love, journalism. She was a columnist covering the State Legislature and other state agencies until 1980. She then declared her intent to run for the office of the Mayor of Bakersfield. Mary K. recalls that the odds were pretty well stacked against her and no one (except Joe) believed she had a chance in the runoff election with four men. Her grassroots campaign included many volunteers walking door to door in neighborhoods all over the city until 7:00pm on election night.  Mary took little time to savor the victory as she began four years of dedication and accomplishments that included

  • Founding of the Beautiful Bakersfield Committee
  • Forming a committee of veteran’s organizations to build a memorial to Medal of Honor recipient Larry Pierce, and all Kern County Viet Nam veterans. The memorial is located at the county courts building
  • Leading efforts to create the Bakersfield Historical Preservation Commission.
  • Establishing the Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast as an annual event.
  • Serving on the California Local Government Task Force by the appointment of Governor George Dukemejian

In 1984, Shell left the position of Mayor when she was elected to the Kern County Board of Supervisors. She was re-elected to the position in 1988 and 1992. She was only the second woman elected to the Board. Her countless contributions over her 16 years of public service have greatly impacted Bakersfield and Kern County. However, when asked about her most memorable public accomplishment, Mary K. said without hesitation, “using grant funds to convert sump property to a lighted soccer field in an underserved area and coordinating efforts to establish an American Youth Soccer Organization region at the field.” Shell recalls stopping at McDonald’s one day and as she was leaving a young woman followed her out saying, “thank you so much – my brother was headed for trouble. Having the soccer field in our neighborhood made a difference. He joined AYSO and changed his life.” For Mary, her many honors and recognitions have been wonderful, but none is as significant as that simple thank you.

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