(March 8, 1912 - September 14, 2010)
Legendary Iowa broadcaster and respected Iowa State University journalism professor.
Jack Shelley was born and raised in Boone, Iowa. He began his career in journalism reporting for his high school newspaper. After graduating from high school in 1929 and with money earned railroad jobs, he enrolled at the University of Missouri at Columbia and received a bachelor degree in journalism in 1935.
After a short stint at the Iowa Herald in Clinton, Iowa Shelley went to work for WHO Radio in Des Moines. His voice became known around the state and was welcomed into peoples’ homes. Shortly after he started he was joined by a sports announcer, Ronald Reagan, who later became the 40th President of the United States.
At the outbreak of World War II Shelley continued to broadcast the news until 1944 when the U.S. Army began to allow civilian reporters to cover the war. He shipped out to Europe and covered the famous “Battle of the Bulge.” He then shipped to the Pacific theater of operations and covered the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in September 1945. Earlier in August 1945 he interviewed Colonel Paul Tibbets who piloted the Enola Gay, the Boeing B29 which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
Shelly returned to WHO Radio in Des Moines and in 1953 was one of twenty reporters invited to report on an atomic bomb testing at Yucca Flats, Nevada. Recordings of his reports from Europe, the Pacific, and the bomb testing are preserved in the Iowa State University Archives at the Parks Library.
In 1954 WHO was licensed to broadcast television in central Iowa. Shelley became the news director and evening news anchor. Robert Greenlee, ISU alum and namesake of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism was quoted in one source, “If you lived in Iowa in the 1950s and 60s and didn’t know who Jack Shelly was, then it’s almost certain you didn’t own a radio or TV.”
In 1966, at the invitation of then ISU President Robert Parks, Shelly joined Iowa State as an Associate Professor of Journalism. He served as Professor from 1969 until he retired in 1982. He received the James W. Schwartz Award in 1993, the highest award given by Iowa State University for accomplishments in journalism and mass communications. Many of his students went on to very successful careers in local and national broadcasting.
Shelley’s professional service extended beyond the newsroom and classroom. He was a founding member of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and served as its president in 1981. He also helped found the Iowa Broadcast News Association, an organization that honored him in 1971 by establishing the Jack Shelley Award, the organization’s highest honor. He was past president of the International Radio-Television News Directors Association, which he also helped found.
In retirement Shelley served on the board and was past president of the Boone County Historical Society which operates the Kate Shelley Railroad Museum and Park. Shelley’s Aunt Kate became an Iowa heroine on a stormy night in July 1881 when the 18 year-old woman crawled across the ties of a railroad bridge that spanned the flooding Des Moines River. She needed to get word to the depot that another engine had crashed into Honey Creek when a trestle gave way. A passenger train arriving later that night needed to be stopped to avoid a similar fate. Shelley donated her papers to the Iowa State University Archives.
Shelley married Catherine in 1937 and they had two sons, John and Stephen. She preceded him in death in 1993. He married Dorothy Thomson in 1996. Jack Shelley passed away September 15, 2010, at age 98.
Obituary, The Des Moines Register September 18, 2010.
“Voice of Iowa, John D. “Jack” Shelley, dead at 98” Iowa State University News Service September 15, 2010.
Cardinal Tales “Selections from the Papers of Journalist and ISU Professor Jack Shelley”, Blog of Special Collection and University Archives at Iowa State University https://isuspecialcollections.wordpress.com/2010/09/17 .
ISU People of Distinction online exhibition: https://digital.lib.iastate.edu/online-exhibits/iowa-state-sesquicentennial/people-of-distinction/john-jack-shelley
NOTE: In March, 2002, McMillen Publishing of Ames issued a biography, in both hardbound and paperback editions, entitled "Jack Shelley and the News." The author, ISU emeritus professor of speech Dr. Robert Underhill, spent nearly two years of research on the project. Each edition includes audio CD recordings of Shelley's most historic World War II broadcasts and his report from the trenches at the atomic bomb test mentioned above.