A Good Sendoff

Friends and favorites of Don Shelby “roasted” him Oct. 8 at the School of Law on St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus. The setting was appropriate because they “tried” the retiring 63-year-old anchor for his excesses, his eccentricities and his exaggerations.

“ ‘My God, they love me so.’ Thus proclaimed Don Shelby as he and I took a saunter through the apparently adoring crowds at the Minnesota State Fair in August of 2006,” Jeff McKinney, Shelby’s WCCO Radio sidekick for 10 years, told the 260 people who attended the ThreeSixty Journalism fundraiser and roast.

“ ‘Will you miss all this when you retire?’ I asked, as I swept my arm up and down the midway …

“ ‘Not like they’ll miss me, Skinny,’ Shelby sighed.”

McKinney was one of 10 men and women – sidekicks, senators and seniors, serious and silly – to pay tribute to the WCCO-TV reporter and anchor since 1978. They included Pat Miles, Paul Douglas, Ann Bancroft, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Shelby’s oldest daughter, Ashley. Father Dennis Dease, St. Thomas president, gave the invocation:

“So let us pray . . .

For our guests at this evening’s roast,

For ThreeSixty Journalism, our gracious host,

For Don Shelby, whom we love the most,

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Father Dease’s brevity carried over, for the most part, to the rest of the evening, which demonstrated the university’s talents, traditions and community ties.

St. Thomas has generously supported ThreeSixty, which trains high school students (with an emphasis on minorities) who think they want to be journalists. For nine years, St. Thomas has provided space and support for the ThreeSixty staff and given scholarships to some of its graduates.

St. Thomas hosted a good party for Shelby, from the food to the fellowship, and our technical staff managed a flawless production, from the audio levels to the zoom shots (of Shelby and family). Two professors from the Communication and Journalism Department (Craig Bryan and Mark Neuzil) even played in the New Nationals’ band that provided music for the reception and dinner.

After the band played and before the roast began, WCCO’s Jason DeRusha hosted a silent auction that, together with the proceeds from ticket sales and a match for gifts of $1,000 or more from an anonymous donor to St. Thomas, raised almost $30,000 for ThreeSixty.

But the roast was the evening’s highlight and its brightest light was Shelby’s daughter. Ashley Shelby Benites took a couple of gentle pokes at her dad, including his penchant to finish a homework assignment for a struggling daughter.

“When I asked one of my sisters … if it wouldn’t feel better to get an A she’d earned, she scoffed at me: ‘You think Dad prefers an A you got on your own to one he got? He exercises his need to be the best ever, and I graduate from high school. It’s a victimless crime.’ ”

She told the audience what some might see as Shelby’s know-it-all demeanor was actually his impulse to be an explorer – “the one who solo winter camps in the Boundary Waters after four strokes to see if he can make it out again, not caring very much if that’s where he ends his days,” she said. “Dad, it’s time to put on those mukluks and begin a new expedition.”

On that Friday night, St. Thomas gave him a good sendoff.