For one man, life is summed up in commitments

Imagine a world full of uncommitted parents. If they told their children, “I’ll try to come home, I’ll try to keep food in the house, but don’t count on me.”

Imagine a community where the best we could ever get from anyone was, “I’ll try to be there if I can, but don’t count on me.”

In Jim Shelver’s mind, commitments are the fiber that binds members in a family, and individuals into a community. He is a man who makes commitments and keeps them.

“Good intentions are worthless without action to back them up,” he said recently while seated in a wooden chair at the kitchen table in his Possession Point area home.

He looks down, as if he’s thinking “Ah shucks, I’m no one special.” His voice is clear and soft, and his words are well thought through.

He elaborates on what the concept of commitment means to him. It’s an agreement usually involving other people. It’s an expectation, one that is best fulfilled if it is clearly spelled out between the parties involved. He cites as an example his neighborhood’s committing to building a community water system. The process took two years, during which, Shelver said, there were several road blocks, such as engineering hurdles, easements, water rights, geological issues, construction considerations and other unanticipated barriers. These tested the resolve of the neighbors.

“So we had to recommit to the project several times over, to make it come to fruition,” he said.

Shelver’s friends appreciate his ability to commit.

“Jim has helped me understand the right relationship between good intentions and completing work in the world,” said Doug Kelly, a South Whidbey attorney and volunteer. “He’s a man with a great heart. But beyond his compassion resides action. His gift is doing whatever the job calls for, from pipes in the ground, to shakes on the roof. You can count on him to see the project through.”

Early in his life, Shelver learned to make commitments from his father.

“Sometimes we learn from ineffective role-models,” he said. “My father was an alcoholic and never made commitments or kept promises to any of us. He couldn’t even support us, so we lived several years in an abandoned house, literally living ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ If I needed clothes or had dental needs, I had to find work to pay for it.”

He said he could have blamed his shortcomings on his upbringing, “but that wouldn’t buy me anything, and would only hurt more people and myself.”

Since he knew first-hand how painful it was to be on the receiving end of non-committed parents and broken promises, he pledged to himself to be a man of commitment and hold to them. But even in this, there were pitfalls.

“Security is a huge issue for me — still to this day,” he said. “Unfortunately I went too far, by trying to be a great family provider and prove to myself I was nothing like my father. I spent countless days and weekends working at my career with a vengeance. I was a great provider, but at great sacrifice.”

He says he feels that had he been home more, his and wife Jo’s children might not become part of the 1960s drug culture, nor would their two sons have quit high school.

In one conversation years ago with one of his sons, Shelver found that he might have set set the bar too high when it came to work.

“I remember going after our eldest teenage son, who had ran away for several days. He told me that he felt inferior to me, that he could never live up to being as successful as I was. That hit me. I realized I had gone way too far trying to prove I was not my own father.”

He said that if he could raise his children all over again he would be home more and at the office less. In addition, he likely would have turned down some of the promotions offered him during his career as a regulatory expert with Pacific Bell.

Now 75, Shelver said he wants to give hope to other parents who may be going through difficult times with their own children. Because, in the end, his own children turned out just fine.

“Jo and I are very proud of all our children today,” he said. “They all weathered the storms of their youth and are all happily married with families, living productive and giving lives.”

One of Shelver’s neighbors, Cheri Wasser writes this about him.

“Jim is the godfather of Possession Beach. My neighbors and I always seek his advice and approval for all beach projects or dilemmas. From building retaining walls to celebrating a new beach baby. Much of the reason we are a close community is because of Jim’s leadership and example. Through Jim’s tireless efforts, and backbreaking work, we now have a safe water source. He committed himself to the project, as our business advisor, engineer, ditch digger, and most importantly, he kept our spirit up when many of us began to wonder if we had all lost our minds. I believe there are two kinds of givers in this world, those who give for recognition and those who give of themselves and contribute anonymously for the pure joy of giving and helping, the latter is Jim.”

Shelver said his retirement is all about family and volunteer work. Service to others is what brings joy and meaning into life. For him, it’s never a sacrifice; it’s a celebration of life.

This is true even when the challenges of life become overwhelming.

In the 1960s, Jo Shelver was a passenger involved in a car accident. Looking at a photo of his wife, Jim Shelver pauses as if reliving the ordeal. She sustained multiple injuries, included to her face, and had to go through numerous plastic surgeries.

“She was so badly hurt that our youngest children were in the state of fear, for they hardly could recognize their mother,” Shelver said. “She still carries these scars today.”

Shelver admires his wife. For even with her health problems and daily pain, Shelver said she still enjoys living to help others.

“I couldn’t ask for a better partner.”

Shelvers friends can see how he has handled the bumps in the road of life.

“For some reason only God knows Jim has been given far more tests than most,” said Shelver friend and Langley architect Ross Chapin. “His returning cancer, Jo’s horrific car accident, his children’s trials with drugs and some financial distress. In all of these, he takes it all in and then steps forward to do what he can to make the situation better. Yet I have never heard him complain. It’s not that he doesn’t recognize pain in fact, I have witnessed uncontrolled tears of pain and grief.”

Greg Gillis, a member of the South Whidbey Board of Education and community volunteer calls Shelver “Mr. 911: Call him and he’s there.

“Don’t call him, and he shows up anyway,” Gilles said. “He’s the most un-retired retired person I have ever known. If there weren’t a Jim and Jo Shelver, then the work they do for this community would have to be spread around to two dozen others to accomplish what they do.”

Shelver is also “Mr. Neighbor Extraordinaire,” said Langley architect and Shelver friend Jean Steinbrecher. She serves with him on the land and facilities committee of the Whidbey Institute.

“I love the way he jumps up and dashes out the door to evaluate a problem, offers solutions, and then volunteers to do it,” she said. “He’s the most committed man I know. He was a Hometown Hero before his nomination, he will continue to be one as long as he can lift a finger, or break into a smile.”

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