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Dead Missouri tornado chaser wants his ashes launched into a twister

Kansas City Star logoKansas City Star 5/24/2018 By Eric Adler, The Kansas City Star
Motorists stop to look at the wall cloud that produced a tornado in Denton, Texas, followed by a torrent of rain as it passed over U.S. 380 east of Denton on Sunday, May 10, 2015. © Al Key/Denton Record Chronicle/TNS Motorists stop to look at the wall cloud that produced a tornado in Denton, Texas, followed by a torrent of rain as it passed over U.S. 380 east of Denton on Sunday, May 10, 2015.

Jim "Mad Dog" Sellars, by his own account, lived quite a life in Springfield, Mo., as an ice cream dipper, butcher, reserve policeman who once protected Elvis Presley, as a telephone lineman, a twice-divorced dad with "exes" he felt lucky to have loved and as a 6-foot-7 power-hitting softball player.

But perhaps most notably, for 30 years, before his massive heart and lungs went bad and confined him to bed, he was a man with an uncanny ability to read radar and chase down more than 100 tornadoes in a lifetime, while helping others to do the same.

"He had a Ford pickup truck," said Sellars' older brother, John, the director of Springfield's History Museum on the Square. "If he knew (a tornado) was going to set up somewhere, in Oklahoma, or Alabama, he would load up with a couple of people and go chase."

Given such a whirlwind life, it was hardly surprising that Sellars, who died Tuesday in Springfield at age 64, would declare in the last line of his self-written obituary that he planned to go out in the same fashion.

"My friends the 'Outlaw Chasers' will launch my cremains into a tornado at a later date," Sellars wrote in his final goodbye. "That'll be fun!!!!"

John Sellars said he has yet to take possession of his brother's ashes, but when he does, he will work to fulfill the request.

"It's as serious as I can make it," John Sellars said.

Atrial fibrillation, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease had confined his brother to bed for the last seven years. Even from bed, he tracked storms for the National Weather Service's SKYWARN program and sent out ham radio reports to fellow storm chasers.

"It was a tough time for him, but he spent every waking hour helping people all over the radio," John Sellars said.

Sellars worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone for 33 years. He filled his obituary with memories.

"If it's in there, it's true," John Sellars said of the obituary. "If he found something that interested him, he jumped into it all the way up to his neck."

Among a few of Sellars' memories:

"I remember the 1960 Winter Olympics we had in our snowy backyard, sitting with Dad watching the satellite Echo 1 flash through the night sky ...

"I remember sitting at the busiest intersection in town ... watching as Air Force convoys moved nuclear tipped missiles to their new home ... silos just 50 miles from my house...

"I was honored as a policeman to have met and protected ... Presidents Reagan and Ford, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, George Carlin, Dolly Parton, Mac Davis, Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones, Elvis and many more...

"I had a few tryouts with the Reds, Phillies and Cardinals. ... I was either too drunk or too hung over to do much good. ... But I had fun."

Of course, there was the weather.

"I liked all kinds of weather," Sellars wrote, "rain, snow, sleet, hot, cold. ... I really didn't care as long as I was here to see it."

Sellars is survived by his son and daughter and four grandchildren.

"In the last several years, I haven't been outside, able to walk or drive, but you know, I'm OK with that," Sellars said. "I loved all my family, friends, caregivers, and the people that made my world turn ... so, as we move forward on our path around the sun at 66,660 mph, let's all pray, hope, or wish for peace and love for our world.

"Bye for now. ... See ya on the other side."

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com

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