The end of an era

Published 6:07 pm Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ethan Shelton plays ukelele at his 110th birthday party last summer. (Leader photo/AMBROSIA NELDON)

Ethan Shelton plays ukelele at his 110th birthday party last summer. (Leader photo/AMBROSIA NELDON)

Those who knew Ethan Shelton are apt to tell you that, for each of the 110 years of his life, he left behind at least one lesson or memory.

The Berrien Center man is most well known for his business, Shelton Farms, and the retail and wholesale markets that stemmed from it. According to Jim Shelton, Ethan’s oldest son and co-owner of Shelton’s Farm Market and Whole Sale, Co., Ethan will be remembered for much more.

“I learned so much from my daddy,” Jim said. “I think I got good work ethic. I think what I learned most is what he always said, ‘You can be tough, but you’ve got to be fair.’ That’s guided my whole life.”

An Alabama native, Ethan and his family moved to Michigan in 1947 after selling the corner store he and his wife, Rose owned in Chicago.

“We moved to Chicago in 1945. I had an invalid brother that needed better hospital care than we could get in Alabama. After we lived in Chicago a couple of years, we voted on where we would go the next time. Michigan won the vote, and let me tell you, I didn’t vote for Michigan,” Jim said. “But I think it’s safe to say we made the right choice.”

Because the market was more Jim and his brothers’ brainchild, Ethan worked as a barber and Rose at the former Berrien General Hospital as the business took off.

The same year that the Shelton family moved to the Niles area, Ethan opened a roadside market at the corner of Bell and South 11th streets on the same lot where Shelton’s Farm Market sits today, opened 12 years later in 1959. The Sheltons’ stand was one of 17 sitting on the strip at the time and the only one that remains today.

“We were farming out in the country and selling a little bit of stuff in front of the house. I suggested to Dad that we needed to go where the customers were at,” Jim said.

Jim suggested the first commercial lot past the bypass, which was for sale at the time, and not long after, Ethan purchased it.

“Dad never threw cold water on anything us boys suggested as far as business. If he was apprehensive he never showed it,” Jim said. “Whatever idea we had, he found a way to do it.”

Today, Shelton’s is co-owned by Jim, his brother, Joe, and his son, Mike.

Jim said through the farm, the roadside market and his barbershop, he touched the lives of a lot of people. After retiring in 1962, he became an avid golfer and grew his musical interests that began at age 10. He played a number of instruments including the mandolin, ukulele, harmonica, and, most recently, the violin.

“Back in those days, when you retired, you died. You worked until you were 65 and you died when you were 66,” Mike Shelton, Jim’s son said about his grandfather. “He lived a long life.”

For many years, Ethan performed in a bluegrass band that played at festivals all over Michiana.

“With the golfing and the music, he just mixed well. He had a lot of friends. He’ll really be missed by a lot of people,” Jim said.

Ethan had more than 100 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. He was married to his wife, Rose Shelton, 69 years until she died in 1995.


Mike said he is thankful for the impact his grandfather had on his life and the family values his grandparents instilled in him.

“The thing that is just intangible that I would say about my grandma and grandpa is that you look back to around the times when they had about 26 grandchildren. Out of all the kids and grandkids they had at the time, every last one of us lived in the area. If it was Thanksgiving or a birthday party, everyone was there,” Mike said. “There was just a lot of love. They set a tone that made us all want to be together.”

Ethan had a fairly simply philosophy on the longevity of his life.

“It’s the way you eat and exercise,” he said in a 2010 interview. “If you eat right and chew your food right that helps. In grade school, our teacher gave us a talking-to that I never forgot — chew your food. Eat slowly. That’s good advice to anybody.”

“He’ll say he eats a lot of good food, but I’m here to tell you he eats whatever he wants to,” Jim joked. “Really though, I think a lot of it was in his genes. His siblings lived well into their 90s, and one lived past 100. I think the fact that he was basically living a happy life and he didn’t stress too much helped.”

Jim said he thinks his father will be remembered for his work ethic, his willingness to listen and for being a good neighbor.

“If anybody had a request or a concern, sometimes he was too easy to help them, even times when I would have been hesitant. He was too good sometimes,” Jim said. “But he lived a good, long life. We’ve come a long way from that little roadside market on Bell Road.”