Saltwater Portrait

Barb Shelton: Life, laughter, Lewes

Positive attitude, quick wit overcome hard knocks
November 5, 2013

Barb Shelton will tell you she's a people person. Although many claim they, too, have a knack for connecting with others quickly, within a minute of talking to Barb, you'll know it's true, really.

Barb is quick and quick-witted. She’ll catch a single word out of someone’s sentence and use it to spin back a clever response.

Barb grew up near Millville, Md., near Chestertown. Despite having a lighthearted attitude, her life has not been without tough times.

“Basically, I’m a happy person. I’ve hard knocks, but I seem to get over them. There’s always been that strength, a positive attitude,” she said.

Her mother died at age 43 when Barb was 12. Barb’s  sister also died at the age of 43. “When I turned 44, I thought, whew – I’m gonna make it!” she said, happy that she had lived longer than two blood relatives.

Today at age 66, Barb has more enthusiasm about life than people half her age.

She loves to dance and started taking Zumba classes long before the aerobic-fitness exercise became widely popular. Barb is active with Bethel Methodist Church where she sings in choir and has also taken up a new musical skill, bell ringing.

For nearly 28 years, she worked at the University of Delaware in Newark, ending her career there as the electrical engineering department’s operations manager.

“It sounds impressive, but it was just a lot of work. It was grad recruiting, grants, proposals, budget management, and a lot of everything. It kept me busy,” she said.

After 25 years of marriage, her husband Bob died a few weeks after being diagnosed with melanoma.

“There was nothing visible on his skin or anywhere. Bob had complained about headaches,” she said. Doctors found what was causing the headaches – two malignant brain tumors, one of them inoperable.

She stayed in Newark for a couple years after Bob’s death, and then in 1971, she decided to leave the university and its college town.

“I just didn’t have the fire in the belly, as they say, and I just said enough of this, so I moved to Lewes,” she said

She knew about Lewes because the family had vacationed there and she enjoyed it.

She had years of experience in academia, knew people at the university’s College of Marine Science and thought it might be possible to get a position.

“So I got a part-time job there and it was great. It really helped me transition, it was kind of a familiar feel,” she said.

Barb said she didn’t know anyone in Lewes, and there was only one way to change that.

“I just put myself out there. I knew the world wasn’t going to come to me.”

She also worked at the Children’s Beach House, starting as a volunteer and taking a part-time job when a temporary position opened.

“I love working there and working with the children,” she said.

She later got a fulltime job with the Lewes Chamber of Commerce as assistant to the executive director.

“I met so many people at the chamber, people with local businesses and visitors,” she said.

“All of those jobs have some common thread in being people-oriented, helping people in one way or another. I enjoyed each and every one of them,” she said.

While with the chamber she also worked for the Lewes Historical Society, and this year, she took a full-time job with the society, looking for grants and sources of funding.

As for her wit, she said it's the product of using it. “I’ve just practiced it for many, many years.

To round out her talents she also has been – and is still – the Easter Bunny at many local events. She puts a full bunny costumes and mingles.

“I was at Home of the Brave and one of the gentlemen said ‘Is that a girl bunny or a boy bunny?’ And the one who had his arm around me said ‘This is very definitely a girl bunny,’” she said laughing with glee.

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