Shirley Schell takes her rightful place in Plano history

Photos courtesy of The Schell Family

Photos courtesy of The Schell Family

Plano lost one of its biggest champions when Shirley Schell passed away recently.  She died a little more than a month after turning 95, leaving behind a legacy of service that few can match.

Among many achievements, Schell may be remembered most for her efforts to preserve the city’s history and her longtime support of First United Methodist Church. Her son Jamie says what he will miss most are her encouragement and smile.

“In the last couple of years, the dementia had set in, but she was still cheery and fun to talk to,” he says. “Memory was obviously an issue, but other than that, she was still just a fun person to be around. She was very loving and supportive in every way.”

Shirley grew up in Tulsa, where she was an energetic kid who played softball and tennis. After finishing high school, she went off to Randolph-Macon Women’s College (now Randolph College) in Lynchburg, Virginia, to study English and French. 

She was very loving and supportive in every way.

She later transferred to SMU to be closer to her ailing father. While attending school, she met her future husband, Alex Schell. They both graduated in the spring of 1948 and were married the same year. The newlyweds settled in Plano, where Alex joined the family insurance business. Shirley would later earn a master’s degree in French. She would go on to teach French at Hillcrest High School and work as a French tutor.

“Growing up, she would always correct me for my grammar,” Jamie recalls. “But she was always fun and just a joy to be around — energetic, enthusiastic and always upbeat.”

He recalls how she loved poetry, whether it was reading great works or writing her own. She and the rest of the Schells also loved taking family vacations. Just about every Christmas, they would go skiing in Colorado. While Alex stuck to the bunny hills or went into town to talk with real estate agents, Shirley kept up with the kids skiing to their hearts’ content.  

“Growing up, she would always correct me for my grammar, but she was always fun and just a joy to be around — energetic, enthusiastic and always upbeat.”

Compared to Tulsa, 1940s Plano seemed like a small country town to Shirley with its population of around 2,000. She and Alex moved into a home off East 18th Street and began to raise a family. It didn’t take her long to become socially active. In 1949, she started a bridge club with other women called the 49ers.

As she settled into her new community, Shirley became passionate about preserving its history. Her work led to the installation of Plano’s first historical marker. It notes the spot of the Muncey Massacre near where Collin County College stands.  

She also spearheaded efforts to install historical markers at the National Bank/IOOF Lodge building Downtown (now A.R. Schell & Son Insurance Agency), at the Farrell-Williams Heritage Farmstead Museum and First United Methodist Church.

Her passion for research led to many hours she spent scouring the archives at SMU, in Austin and even the national archives in Washington, D.C. 

“Anything related to history, she absolutely loved,” Jamie recalls.

That love led her to co-found what are today the Collin County Historical Commission and the Plano Heritage Commission. Starting in the 1970s, she along with Mozelle Jones Campbell, Maribelle McLaurine Davis, Betty Harrington Stranz and Frances Bates Wells began writing a book that would become one of the definitive works on Plano’s history.  

Released in 1986, Plano, Texas: The Early Years delves into the lives of the people who founded the city and the area they settled upon. It contains biographies of many early settlers and information on various local landmarks. Shirley’s contributions included chapters on early mercantilists, the civil war and Plano’s postal history.

She was also the primary researcher for a historical book about First United Methodist Church’s history from 1847-1997. 

Shirley Carter Schell is survived by her children Richard Schell, Margaret Schell Thurmond and James “Jamie” Schell, as well as six grandchildren.

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