James Shelden Sr.

Obituary
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JAMES WHITNEY SHELDEN SR. ROCKFORD - Rockford has lost a longtime civic leader, benefactor, and lifelong resident. James Whitney Shelden passed away peacefully Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, at home, surrounded by loving family, after a short illness. Born July 3, 1923, in Rockford; son of Walter and Margaret Shelden. His father passed away when Jim was a young boy of 10. Raised by his mother and her sister, Faith Armstrong. Life during the Great Depression was hard for a young, fatherless boy. Delivering newspapers helped to bring in money. At an early age Jim was instilled with the importance of service to others and community. His mother was a longtime social worker. Aunt Faith was the head librarian at the Rockford Public Library for many years. He served as a board member or officer of many charitable and service organizations. He was a compassionate, charitable and generous person. An important father-figure in Jim's life was his grandfather, Robert Armstrong, who lived in Winnebago. On more than one occasion, Jim would ride his bike to Winnebago to be with his beloved grandfather. Their special relationship ended with Armstrong's death in 1940, when Jim was 17. As a young boy of 15, Jim embarked on a road trip to California to visit a Rockford friend that had moved there with his parents. Jim found a ride by answering a newspaper ad. He apparently did most of the driving based on his daily letters home. Life was fun and exciting in southern California - enough so that his aunt Faith traveled there by rail to bring him back home to Rockford. Today, a treasure trove of postcards and letters exist chronicling his trip. Graduated with the first class of West High School in 1941. Jim excelled in high school and was a member of numerous clubs and the National Honor Society. His nickname was "Ace" for his shooting on the rifle team. Despite his tall and lanky frame, Jim proved a valuable addition to the football team. He was an economics major at the University of Michigan and joined Phi Delta Theta fraternity. His education was interrupted in January, 1943 when he entered the army. He served overseas with the army air force until being discharged in the summer of 1945 with the rank of first lieutenant. After the war, Jim went back to school and graduated from University of Illinois in 1950, with a law degree and began practicing law in Rockford. The following year at the age of 27, he was elected Alderman of the 9th Ward. He served on several committees and was a respected leader in the community. He was a member of the 1952 Rockford City Council during the city's Centennial year. He married Norma Jean Bailey of Rockford, on Jan. 30, 1954. The newlyweds honeymooned in Havana, Cuba. Founded Cole Chemical Supply in 1956, a distributor of chemicals to the agriculture industry. Through the years Jim acquired related companies including Roberts Laboratories and Crown Chemicals. Another acquisition, Wholesale Veterinary Supply, became a successful mail-order business. One of Jim's loves was his sky-blue, 1966 Lincoln Continental convertible. For many years he could be seen driving around town with Frances, his beloved Irish Setter by his side. More correctly, Frances was in the back seat. And on summer days Jim would drive with the top down and Frances would enjoy the ride to work or wherever Jim had to drive. Friends would comment that Jim was seen driving around Rockford with a striking red-head in the back seat or that Jim has apparently retired to become a chauffeur. If only he would wear a chauffeur's hat, they would say. Jim was always a no-nonsense kind-of-guy. And that included having a truck driver's license. Not just your average truck, but a semi-tractor trailer license. In the early years whenever things were quiet in the office and a truck load of chemicals had to be delivered, Jim and Frances were pilot and co-pilot for the mission. Perhaps Jim's best known service to the Rockford community was his 27 years as chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals from 1969 to 1996. He was frequently interviewed by local media concerning controversial zoning requests. He always strived to balance the rights of private property owners with the community's interests - never an easy task. He always served with integrity and the highest level of professionalism. Jim's appetite for service on community organizations and clubs was immense. He was always willing to give of himself and his time. Jim was a longtime member and past-president of the Rockford Kiwanis Club having joined in 1961. He was the longest standing member of the Rockford Country Club - joining in 1950. Jim loved sports from water and snow skiing to tennis and golf. In winter, he would build an ice rink in his front yard, and hook up lights for his and neighborhood kids to play hockey at night. Besides sports, Jim was an avid traveler. As a young man in his 20s he traveled around the world as part of a study abroad program. Jim was known for his keen insight, his legal mind and his dry sense of humor. He always had time for those who needed his help or assistance. He will be greatly missed by many friends, colleagues, and family. He is survived by his loving wife, Norma; sons, James of Atlanta, Randy (Kay Lynne) of Rockford, Chuck (Kittie Hook) of Denver; daughter, Julie (Philip Trowbridge) of Clarendon Hills; and three granddaughters. Memorial service at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, in Second Congregational United Church of Christ, (where he was a longtime member), 318 N. Church St., with the Rev. Dr. J. Michael Solberg officiating. Private family burial in Winnebago Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be sent to Northern Illinois Hospice & Grief Center, 4215 Newburg Road, Rockford, IL 61108 or Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, 946 N. Second St., Rockford, IL 61107. Arrangements by Olson Funeral & Cremation Services Ltd. To share a memory or online condolence, visit olsonfh.com.
Published in Rockford Register Star from Nov. 14 to Nov. 15, 2012
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