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Dayhoff: Donna Sellman remembered as a pioneer who shattered glass ceilings in Carroll County

On Feb. 1, a number of friends, family, and community leaders gathered to trade stories and pay their respects to Donna (DuVall) Sellman who passed away at age 94, on Jan. 7. Her memorial service at Westminster United Methodist Church was well-attended. Folks filled the church in a heart-warming show of gratitude and well-earned respect.

Sellman was first among equals as a distinguished member of the greatest generation of community leaders who helped shape and form the Carroll County we know today. A true pioneer in her own right, she helped pave the way for countless women, by crashing through a number of glass ceilings. As a result of her accomplishments, we live in a better community today.

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Donna Mercedes (DuVall) Sellman, 94, January 13, 1925 – January 7, 2020, was a groundbreaking leader in the community who crashed through many barriers.
Donna Mercedes (DuVall) Sellman, 94, January 13, 1925 – January 7, 2020, was a groundbreaking leader in the community who crashed through many barriers.(Submitted photo)

Perhaps The Rev. Dr. Sarah Babylon Dorrance, my sister-in-law, explained it best: “Donna was a pioneer woman, because Donna did, we women could.”

Dorrance explained that growing up in Westminster, two houses away from the Sellmans, we “did life together … [Sellman] was always present in my life. … It was Donna’s name that we put on our emergency forms at school. … Donna was larger than life. When she came into a room, you knew she had entered. She was a pioneer woman, and this strong woman was a major influencer in our lives.”

Her nephew, my childhood friend, Bob DuVall, explained it well at her memorial service: “Donna Sellman was a game-changer. … Donna’s life has accounted for many extraordinary impacts and positive outcomes … from growing up on a farm on Meadow Branch Road she graduated from Western Maryland College and the Ivy League’s prestigious Columbia University with a Master’s degree…”

Sellman “willfully answered the call of duty with an uncommon sense of social responsibility,” said DuVall. Sellman thrived in an era, “where volunteerism was viewed as expected and an opportunity not to be missed…” Without the efforts of the likes of Donna Sellman and the greatest generation, “tempered by routine and dutiful sacrifices, our world would be a far different place than it is today.”

Donna Sellman was a game changer to many. After growing up on a farm on Meadow Branch Road in Westminster she graduated from Western Maryland College and the Ivy League’s prestigious Columbia University with a master’s degree.
Donna Sellman was a game changer to many. After growing up on a farm on Meadow Branch Road in Westminster she graduated from Western Maryland College and the Ivy League’s prestigious Columbia University with a master’s degree.(Submitted photo)

Sellman uncompromisingly set the bar high for expectations, and demanded results. She graduated from Westminster High School in 1941 and Western Maryland (no McDaniel) College in 1945. According to information provided by her children, Tom Sellman and Maura (Sellman) Walther, after she graduated, “she was assigned as the first full-time physical education teacher for girls in Carroll County."

“During her 23 years teaching and coaching all interscholastic sports ... she coached six state championship teams in basketball, fieldball, and volleyball [and] also introduced field hockey to Carroll County, also winning at the championship level.

“Extending her formal education, she completed her M.A. in 1950 at Columbia University. ... She extended her leadership in 1968 to become an assistant principal at Westminster High School. After 12 years, she retired from the Carroll County School system and was named as director of Alumni Affairs for McDaniel College, a post held until fully retiring as director emerita in 2000.

“For her contributions and prominence in the field of athletics, she was inducted into the Carroll County Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, and then again in 2009 to the McDaniel College Sports Hall of Fame…” She also served on the board of Union National Bank.

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According to the family, “She was an active and dedicated member of the Westminster United Methodist Church…” Westminster United Methodist Church Pastor Malcolm Stranathan said at the memorial service, “To tell you the truth, the first time I met Donna Sellman, I was just a bit intimidated. … As a Christian, Donna’s life was one of service to her family, her church and the community. She was a professional educator and … extremely successful and well recognized…”

Larry Bohn, a leader in the church said, “Like most successful people, Donna Sellman had many sides. You had to be on your toes when you were around Donna because she had a quick wit. … A no-nonsense but caring teacher and administrator, a dedicated church member and supporter … a woman with a great zest for life … this was the Donna Sellman that many of us knew appreciated and will miss…”

Dorrance summed it best.

“Donna was a pioneer woman in her fields, and because Donna was a pioneer, always encouraging others, I never thought twice about things that a woman could or could not do. It never crossed my mind that a woman could not work in certain fields. Because Donna did, I could. And because Donna did, she influenced many young women to live into their full potential. I am grateful to have had this role model in my growing years, and I am grateful that the Babylons and Sellmans did and do life together.”

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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