Home Advocate Bill Sell: former civil rights activist and community advocate remembered for his love of Bay View

Bill Sell: former civil rights activist and community advocate remembered for his love of Bay View


William H. “Bill” Sell, 83, a longtime prominent activist for civil rights, peace, and progressive environmental and transportation policies, died peacefully Sept. 1 at his Bay View home. He had been in the care of his son, David Sartori, and home hospice.

Sell ​​was born on November 4, 1938, the second of eight children born to Alice Olga (Roecker) Sell and George Peter Sell – the youngest two of whom, a son and a daughter, died shortly after birth.

He is survived by his son, David; by his brother David of Hyogo-ken, Japan; and her sister Susie (Sell) Shannon of Muskego, Wisconsin. He is also survived by many nieces and nephews and an extended family which includes many friends in the Milwaukee area and around the world. He was predeceased by his parents and by brothers George, Robert and Harvey Luke.

Sell ​​attended St. Francis de Sales Seminary in St. Francis and Washington D.C. Catholic University, where he earned two master’s degrees. He was ordained a Catholic priest in the 1960s and served the community of St. Catherine’s Parish in Milwaukee until 1969, when he left the priesthood.

Sell ​​was part of Milwaukee’s religious community of civil rights, anti-war, and social justice activists. He was an associate of civil rights leader Father James Groppi and members of the “Milwaukee 14”, a group of anti-Vietnam War religious activists who staged a major action in 1968.

Sell ​​has worked for several nonprofit agencies, including one he formed, the Center for International Life. In 1983, he founded The Last Word, a publishing/transcription company based in downtown Milwaukee that served authors and publishers nationwide through 2020.

Before moving to Bay View in the late 1980s, Sell lived in the Riverwest and Lower East Side neighborhoods of Milwaukee.

In 2007, Sell was honored with the Berger Express as “Community Activist of the Year” for his advocacy for 21st century transit infrastructure and his dedication to the community. Sell ​​regularly cycled and used public transportation. He hadn’t owned a motor vehicle or television in decades, but he was an early adopter of communications technology.

In 2016, the Milwaukee Independent published a profile titled, Bill Sell: Bay View social conscience and champion of building a better community.

In this interview, Sell spoke about his advocacy: “Activism seems to have run in my blood ever since I grew up in a working-class family. My dad was a shop steward and became president of a local union… Fast forward to my after-school years… I joined civil rights marches, including a brutal march on the South Side. I helped get [civil rights advocate] Father Groppi involved in the anti-war movement… We got to know each other better later, after he left parish work. He added “My blood is the same these days, just moving to other targets.”

In 2016, Michael Horne wrote in Urban Milwaukee“Sell was an early proponent of the Hoan Bridge bicycle crossing, which is not to say that his life is filled with disappointments. His constant advocacy for social justice and transportation issues is well documented in his many writings, and through his efforts and those of others, the state of cycling in Milwaukee continues to improve.

Sell ​​was a founding member of the Bay View Neighborhood Association – which launched the “Chill on the Hill” outdoor concert series and annual Bay View Bash celebration, and founder of Transit Matters. He has also served on the steering committees of the Coalition for Advancing Transit and, most recently, Jane’s Walk MKE. He was a longtime member of the Wisconsin Bike Fed and supported numerous community, media and environmental organizations.

Sell ​​has used his writing skills to shine a light on civic issues that concern him and on the common good, in numerous published opinion pieces and by directly lobbying policy makers. He has also written and published creative writing, including poetry.

He signed his emails in recent years with this quote: “Be nice; for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. – Philo of Alexandria.

In line with his ecologist, Sell chose to have a “green burial” at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee.