Entertainer Gary Shelton credits much of his success to the inspiration of the teachers he encountered growing up in Havelock.
Today, at 54, Shelton is still remembering the influence of those educators in his magic act when he turns charcoal into diamonds.
The trick is based on the kindness of his fifth-grade teacher, Carolyn Green, at what was then West Havelock Elementary School, which is now called Arthur W. Edwards Elementary.
"That’s based on what she saw in her kids and what she brought out," Shelton. "She was a great lady. She saw stuff and she came prepared. She always challenged us. She kept the class involved and inspired. She was one of those teachers I will never forget."
Shelton said teachers in Havelock usually had connections and experiences from everywhere and were willing to share them with their students.
"It was wonderful growing up in Havelock because the school teachers were from all over the world," he said. "You had a school teacher that might have been in Okinawa the year before, or Quantico, or Twentynine Palms. Mrs. Green had been everywhere and so she could share. We’d have international dinners with meals from around the world, which wasn’t hard to do when you’ve got military kids’ parents because they’ve been all around the world or came from there."
Shelton grew up in Ketner Heights. His father, J.R. Shelton, built the first house in the neighborhood.
"It was behind what was then called Vernon’s Texaco. Other people know it as Gray’s Texaco," Shelton said. "My father was a machinist on base. My mother (Shirley Shelton) also worked on base and in the evening she made wedding cakes. She taught the Dale Carnegie Course in public speaking and she chaperoned beauty queens. She used to work with Miss America pageants a lot."
Shelton found that the key to his future was stored on the shelves of the school library.
"Mrs. Green got me into the library and she found out I loved history and she got me to read all the biographies," he said. "There was a good little library at what is now Arthur Edwards for kids. But Havelock’s library back then, the children’s library was one bookcase, 3-foot tall, three shelves, 4-foot wide. I went through every one of those books one summer. If it hadn’t been for the ladies lending books to me growing up, I don’t know what I would have done."
One of those books started Shelton’s career.
"There was a biography of a man named Erik Weisz, who was Harry Houdini," Shelton said. "But I had no idea who he was. Most people don’t know his real name, and I read that book there. Then later on when I went to high school, my mother spent the last three dollars out of her purse and bought a book by Melbourne Christopher called ‘Houdini: The Untold Story.’"
About that time, actor Paul Michael Glaser did the Houdini Indian Needle Trick in a movie.
"Well, all my friends were talking about it at lunch, and I remembered in that book that it taught how to do it and I said ‘Well I can do that,’" Shelton recalled. "Well the next day they brought them and between needles thread and chocolate milk I performed it at the high school."
Today, Shelton does birthday parties, family events, parties for children, corporate events, roasts and toasts.
But his emphasis has still been on libraries.
"I’ve done 16 libraries this summer," Shelton said. "The whole thing is to inspire kids to go out and get into a book. Kids that read and read well by the third grade have done a lot to ensure their own success, so you try to inspire them to pick up different kinds of books."
For the last couple of years, Shelton has taken on an apprentice, Luther Jones, 8, of Bridgeton. Shelton met Jones in a costume contest three years ago.
"His mother made clear that he was serious about magic. It wasn’t just a costume to him," Shelton said. "I really got to know that he was sincere about it and I was going through a bunch of stuff at my office — magazines, books, and small tricks that people mailed me to try out. I just put together a little care box and gave it to Luther. The next time I saw him, he was performing them."
Jones helped Shelton for a show last week at the Pamlico County Library. Shelton, in turn, was helping Jones refine his technique.
"You give back," Shelton said. "We’re all lifted up when we lift others up."