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"Life is short ... therefore I shall be a crusader in the fight against ignorance and fear, beginning with myself."

Dorothy Vickers-Shelley had 74 years to crusade against ignorance and for civil rights, earning the respect and love of hundreds of schoolchildren at Yankee Ridge School.

Many of them still remember that credo she had children recite, as well as her love for all things purple.

Anand Sarwate, now an engineer in San Diego, vividly recalls Ms. Vickers-Shelley.

"She really managed to teach us to love books and respect books. She had a real way with kids," he said.

He remembers reciting the credo as he took out books, sometimes personally selected for him by the librarian.

But Ms. Vickers-Shelley was such an outstanding figure that she took a little bit of getting used to, Sarwate said.

"She was really scary at first to the kindergartners, before we realized she was being funny. She said she'd hang us up by our toenails or stick us with her purple-pointed stick," he said.

The pledge she made children recite resonated with him much more fully as time passed, he said.

"Our job as citizens is to fight ignorance. Later on, I realized she was important in the civil rights movement, and that pledge made sense. It was really positive to see an African-American woman in a position of authority in my early childhood," he said.

Ms. Vickers-Shelley's ex-husband, University of Illinois administrator Clarence Shelley, said she had been a pioneer in the movement, especially in her college days in Detroit.

"She did a lot of work, but it was not always high profile. She carried the message in subtle ways. She was always very energetic and had a consciousness well ahead of the times," he said.

Daughter Pamela-Alyse Vickers Shelley of Urbana recalls her mother as someone who knew everybody, and had the spunk to start taking tap-dancing lessons at the age of 45.

Mrs. Vickers-Shelley, 74, of Urbana died July 24, 2009, at the Carle Arbours, Savoy.

She was born Nov. 22, 1934, in Detroit, the daughter of Thaddaeus George and Thelma Louise (Young) Vickers.

She married Clarence Shelley on April 21, 1957; their marriage ended in divorce. Ms. Vickers-Shelley is survived by two daughters, Dana Vickers Shelley of Baltimore, and Pamela-Alyse Vickers Shelley of Urbana; and one brother, Ronald George Vickers of Clinton Township, Mich.

Ms. Vickers-Shelley earned her bachelor's in elementary education and master's in library science from the UI. She was a teacher and librarian at Yankee Ridge Elementary School in Urbana for 33 years, retiring in 2003.

Ms. Vickers-Shelley was a lifetime member of the NAACP, and a member of the National Council of Negro Women, Delta Sigma Theta, the National Education Association, the Illinois Education Association, the Champaign library board, the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund and Busey Bank's Community Re-Investment Act Advisory Scholarship Committee.

Pamela-Alyse Vickers Shelley said that as a child, she "would often wonder who were all these people that wanted to talk to my mommy every time we went to the mall or the grocery store. I would just stand by and watch how Mom would smile, listen and respond to whatever the individual wanted to share or ask.

"I remember wondering why these people couldn't just leave me and my mom alone," she continued.

Even after Ms. Vickers-Shelley retired, students she'd taught at Yankee Ridge would stop her and catch her up on their lives and how they were doing in school.

Once, her daughter looked at her and said, "You know sometimes I just really want you all to myself."

Her mother looked back at her and said, "Yes, I understand," a pivotal moment in their relationship.

Still, even after Ms. Vickers-Shelley moved to the Arbours, former students and their children, also former students, would stop the librarian to tell her about their lives.

"She just smiled knowingly and I smiled back," her daughter recalls.


Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).