Jeanette Shell Book Scholarship Fund, Inc

Ex-librarian sees others fostering learning in her name

Sunday, April 06, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff
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Jeanette Shell still is inspiring young people to learn and dare to pursue their dreams, 15 years after she retired as a librarian at the Vauxhall branch of the Union Township Public Library.

Shell, 77, recalls vividly when, “sick and tired” of working on a factory production line, she called the Union Public Library and asked for a job. That was in 1941, when “colored people” typically did not work in such jobs.

Shell was hired, however. And, during an interview Friday, she said co-workers embraced her. The subject of race did not come up until her retirement party, she said, when she and a white colleague reminisced about their early days.

After Union’s first black librarian was honored at that event — during which, Shell proudly notes, Congressman Donald Payne and Superior Court Judge Glenn Grant spoke — community members paid further tribute by creating a scholarship fund in her name.

“I didn’t understand why they wanted to do that, since I was retired,” said Shell. “They treated me like I was the president, or the head of the library. I didn’t want them to do it, but I enjoyed it.”

The Jeanette Shell Book Scholarship Fund was established in 1995, and after a lull in activity in recent years, it has a new president, Kimberley Blackwell.

“I’m reviving it,” Blackwell said of the fund, which assists any deserving student in the community by providing money for college textbooks and miscellaneous expenses.

“I want to make this dream come true for her,” said Blackwell. “I e-mailed our board members 10 times today. They said ‘Kim, slow down.’ But there’s no slowing up now.”

Blackwell is a Drew Seminary student whose husband, Daniel, is the son of the Rev. Julian Blackwell of the First Baptist Church of Vauxhall. The scholarship fund board includes such community pillars as Joseph Cannon, Wimphrey Jenkins, Linda Lewis, Floyd Patterson, Frank Prather Jr., Tyrone Tutt, Leslie Cole, Timothy Rasool and Vernell Wright.

They are preparing a scholarship application that is to go out to students at Union High School and other local institutions May 1.

The deadline for applying for one of the scholarships is May 30. The process will include writing short essays in response to such questions as “Who should be the next U.S. president?” and “What are signs that there is or is not a national recession?”

The amount and number of scholarships to be given depend on available funds. To raise money, the scholarship fund is holding a GospelFest at the church where Shell is a member, Bethel AME Church, May 3 at 5 p.m. Admission to the fundraiser is $10.

The awards are to be distributed in late June during a Scholarship Tea at the Union Township Community Action Organization headquarters.


Shell retired early, shortly after the retirement of her husband, John, who was four years older. “I was jealous of him, so I retired, too,” she says.

They took frequent trips. On the way back from Reading, Pa., they were in an auto accident that killed him and left her permanently disabled.

The disability is not keeping Shell from helping young people in her community.

She recalls her colleagues in the library, including Justina Hunt, Rose Sloan, Judy Murphy, Ruth George, Dora Feins and Elizabeth Luycx.

“As librarians, we did the best we could,” she said. “If I didn’t know the answer, I wouldn’t mind if someone else did. If we couldn’t help someone, we would send them to the main library. And if the main library couldn’t help, they would send across the country for help.”

Shell started work as a librarian from a Springfield Avenue storefront next to what is now Joe’s Pizza, and said her father was proud to have worked on building the old branch library at Russell Street. She said she is still giving the community her best.

Contributions to the Jeanette Shell Book Scholarship Fund, a non-profit organization, can be sent to P.O. Box 510 Vauxhall, N.J., 07088. Jason Jett may be contacted at or (908) 302-1509.

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