The story has closed on the life of Fresno’s Rosellen Kershaw, a community volunteer of uncommon energy who never got over her love affair with the printed word and the public libraries that fulfill the democratic right to read.
Mrs. Kershaw died Thursday at the California Armenian Home. She was 91.
To square that number is to just about take the measure of Mrs. Kershaw’s activities during her 50-plus years in the civic realm.
The public mind probably connects her name and work primarily with The Friends of the Fresno County Library, the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters.
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But Mrs. Kershaw in middle age admitted to being enthusiastically tied to 22 groups focused on some type of social or individual progress. Voluntary associations, the lifeblood of a free people, were her passion.
The state Legislature once cut through this pride-of-place dilemma in Mrs. Kershaw’s résumé by simply naming her among its women of the year.
Mrs. Kershaw’s death “is a very great loss for the community,” said Jane Worsley, a community volunteer and library advocate. “She never gave up thinking about new ways to do things.”
Mary Savala, a League of Women Voters director and past president, said Mrs. Kershaw was a firm and loyal mentor to many.
“She was an icon,” Savala said.
If she liked you, she really liked you.
League of Women Voters official Mary Savala
Added Francine Farber, also a key League of Women Voters official: “She didn’t sit and watch things happen. She made things happen.”
Mrs. Kershaw is survived by daughter Julie Marsoobian, son-in-law Bryan Marsoobian and two adult granddaughters. Mrs. Kershaw’s husband, Fresno attorney Michael Kershaw (Keshishian), died in 1999.
Mrs. Kershaw never had to juggle changes in her surname. She was born Rosellen Kershaw (she was half-Armenian) in Fresno on Aug. 28, 1923. She graduated from Fresno High School and earned an undergraduate degree in social science from Fresno State College. Next up was graduate work (economics and business) at San Francisco State College. She put a pair of teaching credentials on her belt, got married, then taught elementary school for 10 years.
Mrs. Kershaw was already dipping her toe into the world of teamwork. She joined the League of Women Voters in the 1950s, spurred by an interest in urban planning, and became league president in 1958.
“It’s a great place to begin because you are studying together, not alone,” Mrs. Kershaw told The Bee in 1969. “The league teaches you to first find out the facts before you act.”
It was her 1962 arrival in the family, Marsoobian said, that inspired Mrs. Kershaw to leave teaching and become “a full-time volunteer.”
She moved fast.
The Bee in that 1969 story found some extra semi-colons and simply listed all Mrs. Kershaw’s activities.
She was state legislative chairwoman for the state division of AAUW (she became state president in 1972). She was president of the Alpha Psi Chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma educational sorority. She was past president of the Opera Guild. She was vice president of San Joaquin Valley Town Hall. She was legislative chairwoman of Ernie Pyle Elementary School’s Parent-Teacher Association. On and on the paragraphs went.
So much more was just over the horizon.
It almost makes me tired to think of all the things she did.
Community volunteer Jane Stanley
For example, Mrs. Kershaw in 1973 celebrated the 10th straight year of receptions she helped arrange at downtown’s Federal Building for the community’s newest Americans.
“It is a really special day for the naturalized citizens,” Mrs. Kershaw said. “The reception makes it a little more special.”
She stepped away in 1977 from one fair housing panel (the Housing Advisory and Appeals Board) and jumped immediately into another (the Housing and Development Commission).
“We needed continuity” in leadership, Mrs. Kershaw said.
Gov. George Deukmejian in 1984 appointed Mrs. Kershaw, a trustee of public radio station KVPR, to the state’s new Public Broadcasting Task Force.
She also was chairwoman of the Fresno County grand jury at the time.
Mrs. Kershaw in 1988 helped the AAUW publish “Heritage Fresno: Women and Their Contributions.” The civic deeds of nearly 100 women born before 1905 were all but lost to history until Mrs. Kershaw and her AAUW colleagues fixed the oversight.
“They were content to be supporting wives, gracious hostesses and intelligent companions,” Mrs. Kershaw said.
Mrs. Kershaw once said her most unusual gift from friends was a meticulous record of her volunteer activities. The task required something the size of a book.
So it comes as no surprise when Marsoobian said it took a stroke about eight years ago to slow her mother. Marsoobian said Mrs. Kershaw suffered a second stroke several weeks ago.
“She always put others before herself,” Marsoobian said. “She always wanted to make Fresno a better place.”
Marsoobian dismisses any suggestion that her mother was that proverbial do-gooder whose missionary zeal leads to a neglected home.
“My dad and I were always first,” Marsoobian said. And when Mrs. Kershaw became a grandmother, Marsoobian added, the two little ones “became her first priority.”
Time management was the key.
“My mother could get more done in a day than most people half her age could in a week,” Marsoobian said.
Mrs. Kershaw did it with wit and relish.
The Bee in May 1990 ran a series on Fresno’s top power brokers. Then-Mayor Karen Humphrey failed to make the top 10 list. The panel of judges found Humphrey to be the “most overrated” leader in town.
Said Mrs. Kershaw in a letter to The Bee: “Was there only one? Hard to believe!”
Rosellen Kershaw when asked in 1984 to list her favorite possessions.
Mrs. Kershaw once told The Bee that she preferred to snack on almonds and couldn’t resist See’s candy. She never forgot a trip to Europe in 1960 and quickly grew annoyed with ideological loudmouths. She regretted never finishing work on her master’s degree and wished she could have been mentored by New Jersey Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick (sometimes called the “conscience of Congress” back in the day).
Marsoobian said details on services for Mrs. Kershaw will come soon. Whoever delivers the eulogy must be a master of compression.
Mrs. Kershaw’s friends are already lining up the stories.
Jane Stanley, a past president of the AAUW’s local branch, said Mrs. Kershaw was instrumental in starting what was once the hottest book sale in town. The event started slowly, netting $600. Then came the year a fire destroyed the building and books less than a month before the doors opened.
“Rosellen said, ‘We’ve got to do something,’” Stanley said.
The book sale rose from the ashes to net a record $60,000.
“She was one of the most dynamic women I’ve ever met,” Stanley said.
Even Mrs. Kershaw’s energies waned with the passage of time. But not her love for books. She was known to grab a dozen or so books every time the county bookmobile made a stop at the Armenian Home in southeast Fresno.
So it was fitting, said several friends, that Mrs. Kershaw’s heart stopped on opening day of the annual book sale put on by Friends of the Library and partners.
Selling books to help fund the library is nothing new. Mrs. Kershaw was among those many years ago who got the library’s bookshop in southeast Fresno up and running. It’s still going.
The four-day Friends of the Library sale at Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis is a natural evolution.
Nancy Kast, current Friends of the Library president, said the line of customers Thursday morning before the opening bell stretched for more than a hundred feet.
If only Rosellen Kershaw could have been there, Kast said.
“She would have been greeting everyone. And showing them where to get the books they wanted.”