Joe Shell, Captain of USC's 1939 National Champion Football Team, Dies

April 8, 2008

Joe Shell, the captain of the USC's 1939 national championship football team and then an oil man and California State Assemblyman, died Monday (April 7) in Bakersfield, Calif. He was 89.

A graveside service will be held on Friday (April 11) at 1 p.m. at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Bakersfield. A memorial will follow at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 1705 17th St., Bakersfield.

Shell was a 3-year (1937-39) letterwinning blocking halfback for the Trojans who came to USC from Hoover High in San Diego. During his career while playing for head coach Howard Jones' 'Thundering Herd,' the Trojans went 21-6-4 (including 8-0-2 in 1939), captured the 1939 national title and won a pair of Rose Bowls by beating teams that were previously unbeaten and unscored-upon (Duke in the 1939 game, 7-3, and Tennessee in the 1940 game, 14-0, to snap the Volunteers' 23-game winning streak).

In 1964, he was named to the Sports Illustrated Silver Anniversary All-American team, based on his 'pursuit of rounded human values in which athletics and education are joined.'

After USC, he served in World War II as a civilian flight instructor with the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1943 and then joined the Navy in 1944, where he was a senior pilot in the air transport service.

After the war, he was an independent oil producer, drilling in Kern County while living in Los Angeles.

He was elected to the California State Assembly in 1953, representing the Wilshire district in Los Angeles. He won 5 consecutive elections through 1961 and was the Assembly minority leader. He authored legislation in the fields of education and state oil lands. He ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1962, but lost to Richard Nixon.

Shell returned to the oil business after that. Although he didn't run for public office again, he remained active in state and local politics. He was appointed to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board in 1989 by Gov. George Deukmejian.

He is survived by his wife, Mary K., a former Bakersfield mayor and Kern County supervisor, plus 4 sons, 2 daughters and a stepson.

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