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Arthur L Selland
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Birth: Dec. 31, 1905
Burke County
North Dakota, USA
Death: Dec. 5, 1963
Fresno County
California, USA

The Beloved Mayor of the city of Fresno was killed in a car crash in Fresno.

In a time before seat belt laws, Selland who was seated in the back seat was thrown through the windshied by the force of the collision.

Selland was serving in his second term as Mayor and was the presiding head of the United States Conference of Mayors at the time of his death. A thank you letter from newly sworn in President Lyndon B Johnson arrived a day after his passing.

His Memorial service was held in Fresno's Memorial Auditorium, the largest meeting place in Fresno at the time. Church services were held at the First Baptist Church with interment at Belmont Memorial Park.

Flags were already being flown at half staff during the mourning period for John F Kennedy, so they remained at half staff for the Mayor. The downtown indoor stadium conference center built years later would be named Selland Arena in his honor.

Selland was a charter member of the Jim Savage Chapter of the Ancient and Honorable order of E Clampus Vitus in 1959. Taken too soon.

An article in the Fresno Bee on the 50th anniversary of His passing.

Thirteen days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Fresno was rocked by the sudden death of its own political leader.

Mayor Arthur L. Selland was killed on Dec. 5, 1963 in a car crash south of town as he and three other community leaders returned from an official business trip to Los Angeles.

Local chamber of commerce president Herbert Ferguson also was killed. Fresno attorney Richard Worrel and chamber executive vice president Lloyd Weber, the car's driver, were injured.

City flags lowered for Kennedy were still at half-staff. City officials could only lower the city flag a bit more to demonstrate mourning for Selland.

"The great love and devotion he had in his heart cannot be replaced," Council Member Wallace Henderson said the day after the accident. "He gave all he had."

No one, of course, would suggest that the deaths of Kennedy and Selland were comparable in the grand course of history. An American president affects world order. The wider influence of a mayor in a modest-sized city most often is small.

But the life and times of Arthur Selland do bear a review as the city approaches the 50th anniversary of the deadly crash. He served nearly six years as mayor at a time when Fresno was changing as rapidly and profoundly as JFK's America.

It was an era of big projects.

Kennedy vowed to ease Cold War tensions, put an American on the moon and get the nation moving with vigor.

Fresno City Hall got rid of its old-fashioned commission government and replaced it with a professional city manager answerable to a council.

Most striking of all, downtown had City Hall's undivided attention.

The new Redevelopment Agency was ready to clear away west Fresno's slums. A community/convention center, on various drawing boards since the early 20th century, was about to be born. And there was serious talk about embracing urban architect Victor Gruen's vision of turning downtown's main street into a pedestrian mall.

Selland, who got his start in Fresno during the Great Depression, wasn't the man making it all go. But he was the man at the heart of most of it.

And 3,000 miles away, top officials in the Kennedy administration, sometimes the president himself, were taking keen interest in Selland's work because they viewed Fresno's efforts at urban renewal as a template for other struggling American cities.

A man of commitments

Arthur Selland was born Dec. 31, 1905 in Flaxton, N.D., a town of several hundred near the Canadian border. Construction of the railroad west out of Flaxton didn't begin until 1906.

Selland was the son of Norwegian-born parents. The family moved to Shasta County in Northern California when he was 4.

Selland went into banking as a young man and moved to Fresno in 1934. The stock market had crashed five years earlier, ushering in the Great Depression.

Selland tested the country's prevailing winds, then became a stockbroker. He would become a wealthy man.

There was hardly a civic post or volunteer duty that Selland didn't tackle during his nearly three decades in Fresno.

He served 11 years on the Fresno City Board of Education, the last two as president. He was helping set local education policy when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its historic Brown v. Board of Education decision on school segregation in May 1954. He was helping set local education policy when the Soviet Union successfully launched the Earth's first artificial satellite in October 1957, causing another revolution in America's public schools.

He was one of 16 mayors selected by Kennedy in 1962 to make a goodwill tour of West Berlin. He was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June 1963.

He was on the business advisory boards at Fresno State and Fresno City College. He was a trustee of the University of Redlands. He was a director of the Young Men's Christian Association. He and his wife, Cecilia, owned a 320-acre cotton and grape ranch. They had five children and eight grandchildren.

Selland hit his stride in April 1958 when elected mayor. Fresno had passed the 100,000 population mark earlier in the decade. The commission government elected legislators also wore administrative hats couldn't keep pace with the times. Voters went to a council-manager form. There would be a council with six members elected by district, a mayor chosen citywide, and a professionally trained manager hired by the council to run day-to-day affairs.

The mayor's official power wouldn't extend beyond a seventh vote. But the job's potential for leadership was boundless.

Selland on April 8, 1958 won the mayor's race with 40% of the vote in a nine-candidate race. Incumbent Mayor C. Cal Evans was a distant second. Former mayor Gordon Dunn finished third.

Selland won a second term, this one for four years, on April 11, 1961. Selland took nearly 75% of the vote in a two-man race.

"Since I've been mayor, I have been averaging about 250 speeches a year, and it doesn't look like there will be any letup," Selland said afterward. "For every speech I make, I have to turn down three others."

Construction of a downtown convention/community center was among Selland's priorities. So, too, was bringing to life a central business district plan that revolved around the Gruen-designed Fulton Mall.

As befits a successful stockbroker, Selland wanted Fresno's business community to thrive. That is why he had joined Ferguson, Weber and Worrel in Los Angeles for a two-day chamber-related business conference.

Selland, a private pilot who owned his own plane, had taken a commercial flight to Los Angeles. He planned to fly home, but changed his mind at the last minute.

A letter signed by President Lyndon Johnson arrived at City Hall on Dec. 5. It was addressed to Selland as president of the Conference of Mayors.

"Nothing has meant more to me during these hours of sorrow after the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy than the message from friends like you," Johnson wrote. "I appreciate your thoughtfulness."

Johnson was preparing legislation that would become the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Selland was scheduled to meet with Johnson in the second week of December to offer the support of the Conference of Mayors.

Elvin Bell, a spokesman in 1963 for the Fresno chamber (and later a Fresno City Council member), said at the time that he and Selland were working on a civil rights speech for the mayor to deliver in Washington, D.C.

Selland, Bell said, would offer to Johnson "his personal aid in helping pass a civil rights measure."

Shaken community

Thursday, Dec. 5 marked Fresno's ninth straight day of fog and cold. The day's high temperature was 40 degrees, a record low maximum.

The four men who left Los Angeles in mid-afternoon for the drive home personified the power structure of early 1960s Fresno.

Selland was the Wall Street wizard who, as mayor, could get his phone call through to the White House. Ferguson, 56, was finishing his one-year term as president of Fresno's most important business association. Worrel, 50, was the successful lawyer who, as vice president, was assured of being elected chamber president in January. Running the chamber was the 39-year-old Weber's full-time job.

The four stopped once for gas. They hadn't even taken the time for a cup of coffee, Worrel told the state Highway Patrol.

Weber was driving the chamber-owned station wagon as they neared Fresno. Ferguson was in the front passenger seat. Worrel was sitting behind Weber. Selland was sitting behind Ferguson.

All four seats had seat belts. Only Worrel took the time to snap his around his middle.

The four cleared the Grapevine and headed north on a highway nearing the end of a historic transformation. Traffic safety after World War II became a priority, and Highway 99 was slowly but steadily expanded from two (sometimes three) lanes to four lanes.

The highway once went across the center of Fresno. Drivers had to negotiate 16 stoplights, many of them on Broadway, just to get through town. The loss of this traffic in central Fresno was one reason Selland was so intent on a top-to-bottom renewal of the inner city. Downtown Fresno's old business model was gone, and it wasn't just because of a new shopping mall three miles north on Blackstone Avenue.

The state's piecemeal modernization of Highway 99 in Fresno County began in the mid-1950s. The final portion, from the southern Fresno County line to central Fresno, was completed in 1964. What remained of old 99 (renamed Golden State Boulevard) was a half-mile or so to the east of new 99.

This was the shifting geographic context as Weber, who was born in Ohio and had been in Fresno for about seven years, took the Clovis Avenue exit of new 99 and headed northeast toward the Clovis Avenue-Golden State intersection. He was taking Worrel to Worrel's home on South Clovis Avenue.

Clovis Avenue traffic in both directions had stop signs. Golden State traffic didn't. It was about 6:30 p.m. dinnertime.

A big rig with two trailers was headed southeast on Golden State. The driver, who had almost 30 years' experience, would later say he had refueled in Fresno and been on the road that day for nearly 12 hours. He estimated his speed at 50 mph. He arrived at the intersection with Clovis Avenue a split second before Weber got there.

The station wagon plowed into the big rig's right side. The station wagon's hood was ripped off. It was found 60 feet away. A Bee photo of the car after the accident shows a demolished left front end and a crushed engine.

Worrel on impact hit the front seat and was thrown back. Weber hit the steering wheel. Both were taken to Fresno Community Hospital.

Selland and Ferguson were thrown through the front windshield and landed in the engine compartment. They were dead when the ambulance got to a hospital about a half-hour later.

Julie Selland, Arthur Selland's niece, was visiting at the mayor's house in central Fresno on the night of the accident. She was 8 years old and recalls walking into the kitchen to find the adults weeping.

"Arthur was a kind, soft-spoken man," Julie Selland says. "But he didn't let certain people in Fresno government push him around."

Word of the crash spread fast. The two dispatchers at the local Highway Patrol station were flooded with calls. A third dispatcher was called in to help.

Callers asked the same question: "Is it true?"

Echoes of JFK funeral

The City Council met in emergency session on Dec. 6. Just two items were on the agenda.

The first was planning an interdenominational memorial service for Selland on Monday in the Fresno Memorial Auditorium. City employees were authorized to leave work between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to attend.

The second was adopting a memorial resolution.

The resolution stated in part that Selland's "enthusiastic and optimistic leadership of the Fresno community will long be remembered and will stand as a model for this city and its councils in the years to come."

Monday, Dec. 9, dawned with dark clouds, but the rain held off long enough for a marching cortege.

Two weeks earlier, on Nov. 25, Kennedy's coffin during his state funeral had been moved by caisson from the Capitol Rotunda to the White House and then to St. Matthew's Cathedral.

Almost the entire nation watched in person or on TV as Jacqueline Kennedy and JFK's brothers, Robert and Edward Kennedy, led the procession on foot during the coffin's journey to the cathedral. President Johnson and French President Charles de Gaulle were among the dignitaries also following on foot.

It was a scene as emotional as any during the four days of the assassination and aftermath.

The tribute to the third Fresno mayor to die in office had unmistakable similarities.

Selland's coffin was moved by hearse from Orr's Colonial Chapel at the corner of San Joaquin Street and Van Ness Avenue in what is now called the Cultural Arts District. The Police Department motorcycle traffic squad cleared the path to Memorial Auditorium at N and Fresno streets.

An honor guard from the police and fire departments preceded the hearse. Honor guards from the two departments flanked the hearse on the other three sides. The six council members walked behind the rear honor guards. Four long rows of police officers and firefighters followed the council members. Selland's family and friends, and Fresnans who knew Selland only as their mayor, walked behind the ranks of police officers and firefighters.

The six council members carried Selland's coffin into the auditorium. An estimated 2,500 people were gathered inside. The dignitaries included Portland, Ore., Mayor Terry Schrunk representing the Conference of Mayors; Mayor George Christopher of San Francisco and state Sen. Hugh Burns of Fresno.

Msgr. James G. Dowling of the Shrine of St. Therese paid tribute to Selland.

"God in His infinite goodness has given us in our time great leaders, men of fearless integrity, men of conviction and courage, men of deep faith, unswerving confidence and boundless love," Dowling said. "Each in his turn has played his part and each with dramatic suddenness has left the stage to receive the just reward for faithful service in the cause of peace as well as a lasting moment in history.

"Such was that great apostle of love, Pope John XXIII. Such was our recently mourned martyr for peace, our beloved President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Such a one, also, was Mayor Arthur Selland whom we mourn today."

Dowling said Fresno would create many lasting memorials to Selland, among them a perpetual commitment to improving the city.

"The tragedy of sudden death is not in the loss of a great leader," Dowling said. "It is rather in the failure of those who follow to emulate his example, to accept the torch and to go forward in the battle in which he died in action."

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Belmont Memorial Park
Fresno County
California, USA
Created by: Lester Letson
Record added: Jan 29, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 33374153
Arthur L Selland
Added by: Lester Letson
Arthur L Selland
Added by: dcvolts
Arthur L Selland
Added by: Lester Letson
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