Local dignitaries and members of the senior community of San Juan Bautista gathered on Oct. 6 at the St. Francis Retreat to honor the late Mary Sellen by dedicating the new Senior Citizens Center in her name.
The center project is spearheaded by San Juan Bautista residents, including San Juan Bautista City Council member Mary Edge, and will be organized under the nonprofit Jovenes de Antaño. It is in the last stages of being chartered and will meet at the retreat until a permanent location can be established in the central part of the town.
Sellen was known for her drive to help people in her 22 years of employment at the San Benito County Welfare Office and for her volunteer work with seniors and veterans, which continued until her death in 2013 at 91.
“It seems fitting that we honor Mary Sellen here at the St. Francis Retreat,” said Wanda Guibert, president of the San Juan Bautista Historical Society. “Mary was always checking to see how she could make someone’s life better and seemed to personify the Prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
According to Guilbert, Sellen was born in Mexico in 1921 and came to San Juan Bautista when she was two years old. She left high school after one year, working in the fields to help support her family, and over the course of her remarkable life, had been a welder at the Richmond shipyards during World War II, a mechanic at a garage in San Juan and later its owner, a janitor, a school bus driver, and finally working at the welfare office driving seniors and veterans to their doctors as well as taking young people to the Stanford Children’s Hospital.
Guilbert quoted Sellen as saying, “By the time I got through the 22 years at Welfare, I had over a million miles, and I wore out three cars.”
Sellen was honored in 1992 by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) as an outstanding role model for women and for her “distinguished service for the Latino community.” She was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation, was a director of the San Juan Bautista Historical Board and, in 2001, received the Jefferson Award, which acknowledges individuals who help build better communities.
The idea for the center came out of discussions about the lack of services for seniors in San Juan Bautista, Shirley Treviño said.
“A group of us decided that since nothing was happening for seniors in San Juan Bautista,” she said, “we would do something. We had a public meeting where we took ideas from people about what they wanted to see, and it grew from there. We are now finishing the articles of incorporation and bylaws, and once they are sent to the California secretary of state, we will officially operate as a center.”
The center still needs funding and a permanent location, but for the moment has been holding informal meetings and craft classes at the retreat.
“It is a need for San Juan Bautista,” Edge said. “Why do we have to drive all the way to Hollister for services and resources? We can’t do it alone, though, and any assistance we can get from the public would be appreciated.”
Members of the family offered their memories of Sellen’s life, and representatives from the offices of State Senator Ann Caballero, Assemblyman Robert Rivas and Congressman Jimmy Panetta were on hand to offer their support. Assistant City Manager Brian Fouche also attended along with Mayor Leslie Jordan, who expressed her appreciation for the project.
“It has been Mary Edge’s vision to bring together our seniors,” Jordan said. “Having a senior center without actually having a brick-and-mortar has been phenomenal. The events that she has put on and the things she is planning, particularly without having a brick-and-mortar, are amazing.”
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