Legendary broadcaster Don Shelby embraces a new role as conservation advocate and builds a new (old) eco-friendly house
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Lacy Shelby, the middle child of Don and Barbara Shelby, describes her ebullient father as a kind of tornado, “sucking things up, spinning them around really fast, and then spitting them out.”
“It’s not hard to get him excited about something,” says daughter Shelby. “It was pottery, then it was rock climbing, then mountaineering, than building steamboat models….”
But Lacy Shelby says it would be a mistake to call her father’s new public persona—as outspoken environmental advocate—some new whim. “I really think this is the true him,” she says earnestly. “Like all of it has added up to this. This isn’t just another story for him. I can hear it in his voice when he talks about this stuff.”
And talk he does. Since his retirement from WCCO in November 2010, the silver-tongued, silver-haired Shelby has penned more than 74,000 words about environmental issues for Minnpost.com, has taken up lecturing about climate science across the state, and just recently worked out an agreement with BringMeTheNews.com to voice a morning drive-time radiocast and produce original content. He expects the new platform will allow him to do even more stories with an environmental angle.
Shelby says his came to his environmental convictions through on-the-ground reporting during his 32-year career at WCCO. He covered the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, reported on waste dumping in the Arctic Ocean, explored record levels of toxins found in the flesh of seals, and spent many hours talking with some of the country’s leading climatologists.
“Let me speak to this so it doesn’t sound like overstatement,” says Shelby, in that famous clarion-clear baritone. “This is the most important thing in the history of human beings. If we don’t do something, people will die, by the millions.”
So deep is his conviction that Shelby and his wife are moving into a house they had built in Excelsior with a rainwater catchment system, geothermal heating and cooling, photovoltaic solar power, and a graywater recycling system, among many other eco technologies and features.
“If we built a house and it wasn’t like this, I would be a fraud,” says Shelby.
The house, completed this past April, sits between Excelsior and Gideon Bays, just a three-minute walk from a 13-acre bay-front park. The Shelbys found this idyllic lot by driving around and around the west metro. “We’ve been thinking about this house since [youngest daughter] Delta moved away from home,” says Barbara Shelby. “I guess that’s been 10 years now.”
After such a long wait, the Shelbys had a very clear picture of what they wanted: a farmhouse-inspired home with all the cutting edge residential technologies, but not a shred of pretension. In particular, they had two plainspoken houses in mind: a whitewashed farmhouse on the Nanticoke River in southern Maryland where Barbara Shelby was partly raised, and a simple frame house in northern Indiana where Don Shelby’s grandparents lived. When the Democrats were in office, Grandpa was a bookie and a barber, and Grandma was a teacher and a poker player; when the Republicans were in power, both held government jobs. (True story, says Don.)
To make that sentimental vision a reality, the Shelbys turned to architect Jon Monson, principal at The Landschute Group in Excelsior, who has been building custom homes in the Lake Minnetonka area for 32 years along with his wife, Mary Monson, and now sons Mike and Jonathan.
For the Shelbys, Monson sketched a kind of Cape Cod-evoking, neo-colonial design with a symmetrical façade and a gable end ridge roof. A massive, flat-roofed porch spans the front width of the house, complete with ceiling fan. (The Shelbys got married in Charleston, South Carolina, and wanted a touch of sweet tea in the structure.) Monson rotated the garage away from the house so the solar panels would look directly to the south, but smoothed the transition with a smaller, curved entry porch topped with a terrace and lattice railing.