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Monologue by Shelton M. Harper

Harper, M. Shelton
Harper, Shelley N.
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with People and Places
Shelton Harper talks about his family and the jobs he has had.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Shelley Harper interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
MH (M. Shelton Harper): OK Queen, this is Dad. Here it goes. I was born in Rowan County, Salisbury, North Carolina January the 24th, 1947. My parents were Frances Marion Hunsucker and Millard Shelton Harper, Senior. Their parents were Thelma Heilig and Frank Hunsucker and Ralph Fletcher Harper and Katherine Steele. I had one brother, and that was Frank. We grew up in the Saint Paul's Lutheran Church Road and Saint Paul's Lutheran Church. Uh, Frank was killed at the age of 19 in a plane crash while serving in the, uh, US Navy. Uh, I went to East Rowan excuse me, Faith Elementary School and East Rowan High School. I graduated in the top third of my class and, uh, after working a year after I got out of high school, I was drafted into the United States Army in 1966, July of '66. Uh, I went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for basic training. I went to Fort Dixx, New Jersey for Morse Code training. I went to Fort Gordon, uh, Georgia for my radio Teletype training, and then I was assigned overseas. This was during the Vietnam War era. I went to Okinawa. I was in a com center, which was a communications center, over there as a Teletype writer. I was, uh, investigated by the US Army and given a top-secret clearance and used the, uh, coding device known as crypto. We, uh, went temporary duty to Thailand for two months and that sailed us down the coast of, went by ship, we sailed down the coast of Vietnam and around the point down there, the cape, and came up to Thailand and we went to Karat. Karat was a Air Force base. A city and an Air Force base that, uh, ran bombing missions over Vietnam night and day while I was there, probably for the duration of the war. Uh, on the way back from Karat to Okinawa, by boat again, by ship, we sailed up the Saigon River to Saigon, or whatever river it was, I think it may have been a different name, it may have been the Mekong River. But, we went up to Saigon, stayed in Saigon for about a week but I never got off of the ship. Uh, came back to Okinawa and attained the rank of Sergeant E5, uh, in like 16 months. That's one of the quickest ratings you could advance to, that's a quick rate advancement to that ranking, uh, by any standards in the military. I got out of the service in July of '68 and I came back home. And, two months after I came back home, I married your mom, September 27th, 1968. We, uh, bought us a mobile home and lived in it on Airport Road, uh, and about a year after we bought it, we moved it back to Old Concord Road where, uh, it was destroyed in a fire on a Sunday morning. Uh, we moved in with Mom and Dad and stayed with them while we built the house on the property that we owned. We lived there for several years until we had, uh, I think, you and Joel, and Jeremy, as a matter of fact. We had all three of you. And then we moved in a, built a bigger house right next door to it. Shortly thereafter, uh, about seven years I think it was, eight years, God, in the second house, we decided to build another house down in Rockwell and moved down there. Uh, let's see. I've worked since I got out of the military for the, uh, let's step back. While I was out of high school before I went into service, I worked at Rowan Cotton Mill. I worked in the, in textiles. I worked in the winding room laying up filler to the winder hands, I worked in the spinning room, learned how to doff spinning frames, I worked in the supply room there at the mill that provided all the parts and the necessary equipment to repair the machinery and make the machinery work and you name it, paper towels, toilet paper, anything that they needed to run that plant. I worked in the warehouse receiving cotton and in the shipping department shipping yarn. And I did all of this in the course of a year, uh, before I went into the military. After I came home from the military, I went in to work at, uh, two different, two different places. I worked at Republic Foil, which was an aluminum foil manufacturing plant, located on Old Concord Road. Then, I went to work for an, uh, electric wholesale supplier here in town. And, that didn't last long. It wasn't much money, uh, no, no chance of advancement or raises. So, I moved on to work for a company by the name of LeSona. That's L-E-S-O-N-A. They installed textile machinery throughout the southeast. And, I was a journeyman and an erector. I took, uh, I was trained for about two months, was trained to read blueprints and had a pretty good mechanical background and you would go into a plant and the machinery would be in, in large, wooden crates and you would unpack the machinery and all the tools, all the bolts and nuts and washers, and whatever that was necessary to put the machine together and, you would build it from the ground up. Once you got it built, you'd push a, the electrical button and start it up, fine-tune it and then turn it over to the plant. I did this for three years. The name of the machine, the type of the machine that I installed was Twisters, Ring Twisters and the other machine was Stretch Yarn machines. Ah, oh, by the way, your, uh, Grandfather Charlie worked for that same company. He was an electrical, uh, expert, uh, for that company, did a lot of troubleshooting and repair work for them. And, your Uncle Donnie also worked in that company also. Uh, after leaving LeSona, I went to work for the Salisbury Post as a newspaper carrier and I did that for seven years as an independent, uh, independent route carrier, independent business. More or less, I worked for myself. After doing that for seven years, I went to work for Rack Room Shoes. Actually, it was Phil's Shoes at the time. And, I've been working for them for the past 25 years. I started off, I sold shoes as a sales clerk. I was a, uh, assistant manager, never was a store manager. I was a district manager. I was a buyer, matter of fact, I was the, uh, on the sales floor one day when a kid came in to purchase a pair of shoes. When I approached him and asked him what he wanted, he said he wanted a pair of Nikes, only he didn't call them Nikes, he called them Nickies. And, I had never heard of this brand name of merchandise before. I advised Mr. Lerner that, what the kid had asked me when he came in later that day and he went downstairs and started making some phone calls and found out that Nike just happened to be Blue Ribbon Sports. It was located up in the east, the western part of the United States in, ah, I think, Oregon or Washington. And, we got an appointment and purchased our first Nike shoes about two weeks later. And, I think we all know what Nike's done in the last 25 years. Uh, anyway, I proceeded on to, uh, uh, helping the buying department, the merchandising department. Mr. Lerner trained me to be a merchandiser. I was responsible for merchandising all of our stores. He bought, we bought the merchandise, and then, uh, I more or less decided where it went when they got fill-ins on what we had left over and things like that. Uh, after several years, the company was sold to Deichmann Schuue. And, uh, I strictly became the warehouse manager, the distribution center manager. Uh, I did start the fleet for Rack Room Shoes. I bought the very first, uh, truck, actually we started off with a green van, Econoline van, moved up to a step van, which was gas-powered. Then, we bought our first diesel truck, which was a box truck which was a 24-foot box on the back of a truck. And, then we finally bought our first tractor-trailer in 1970, excuse me, 1983. Uh, we currently have, believe it or not, over 50 tractor-trailers and box trucks. Uh, we have a distribution center that's servicing all of our retail stores, which is approximately 350. I have a line haul facility in Florida that I am responsible for, in Lakeland, Florida, and an off-site warehouse that's located about two miles from the distribution center itself and maintenance shop. All told, there's approximately 150, more or less, employees that are under my supervision. I have uh, seven supervisors who are direct reports and then all of those folks work directly under those individuals. Uh, our trucks run approximately four million miles per year. And, we process close to twenty million pairs of shoes annually. Uh, I attend, excuse me, I was born and baptized in the Saint Paul's Lutheran Church on Saint Paul's Church Road. Uh, I went to Sunday school there, catechism there, joined the church there. Uh, I did attend briefly North Hills Christian School, which is a Methodist church. And, I have attended a Baptist church before and several Presbyterian churches and whatever to get a more broader understanding of the different religions. Uh, in the church, I'm involved with the church council as a church council member. I've taught Sunday school for a number of years. Served on several different committees including the, uh, property committee, the evangelism committee, the stewardship committee and I am currently chairman of the cemetery committee and treasurer of the cemetery committee. Uh, I was instrumental, uh, in bringing the second pastor, a second pastor, the church when that hullabaloo was going on. Uh, also, I, uh, have worked with youth in the church, especially, uh, when you kids were growing up and, uh, provided support anywhere and everywhere I can. I was a member, or excuse me, am a member of the Lutheran Men. I have been a vice president of the Lutheran Men's Association at Saint Paul's. Uh, I have attended the, uh, Synods Convention up in, uh, Hickory, North Carolina, the Lutheran Synod at the Lenior-Rhyne College Convention. Uh, me and your mom have done that with Pastor Ketchie and Kathie. Uh, let's see [long pause] might like to know that, uh, my great grandfather, which was your grandfather, Grandpa Dick's, uh, grandfather, OK? Was the Reverend Haywood Harper. He was a Presbyterian, excuse me, a Methodist minister at South River Methodist Church up in the western part of Rowan County. Uh, I'm going to ramble I guess, a little bit. Let you know that your Grandma Frances has a brother and a sister. A brother died when he was in his fifties and her sister was killed in a car wreck when she was very young, probably about seven years old, if I remember correctly. Your dad, grandfather, uh, had five brothers and one sister. And they're all deceased, including all on my grandma's side also. Uh, I guess one of the funniest stories that I can recall, uh, happened, uh, while I was working. Uh, it seems that, uh, Mr. Lerner was a good friend of Dean Smith at UNC Chapel Hill. And, Mr. Lerner had promised myself, Mike Cagle and Jerry Safrit tickets to a Carolina basketball, home basketball game at Carmichael before Carmichael closed and they moved to the Dean Dome. Well, there were only two home games left at Carmichael and we were frustrated that Mr. Lerner hadn't got us any tickets and even mentioned it. So, we, uh, took it upon ourselves to grumble about it to each other and during the course of the grumbling Mike Cagle went over, picked up the phone and called UNC Chapel Hill and asked for Dean Smith's office. And, relayed the story to, uh, Dean's secretary, I think her name was, at the time, Linda, I believe that's right. Anyway, the story that Mr. Lerner had played golf with Dean and Dean had promised Mort some tickets to, for his guys to come to a home basketball game before they left Carmichael. Well, she said she would speak to Mr. Smith about it. He was in a meeting and then when he got out, she spoke to him. She called us back and told him that Dean remembered the conversation and that, uh, there would be four tickets at the will-call window for either game we wished. All we had to do was say which one we were coming to. Well, we did. We went to one, the game. Only one of us couldn't go, Mike Cagle of all people, and, uh, we took Wayne Hinson instead. Funny part about all of this was, shortly after we got the tickets in the mail, or got the confirmation in the mail that we had the tickets at the will-call window, Mr. Lerner dictated a letter to Dean and to your mama and she asked me what she was supposed to do. I said, "Well, mail the letter and we'll take our lumps when the time comes." Shortly thereafter, there was a response came back from Dean Smith to Mort stating that he had already give us the tickets and that we had already attended the game. She said, "What do I do now with this letter?" I said, "Give it to Mort and we'll see what happens." Well, we thought we were all going to get fired, but we didn't. He understood after he rant and raved awhile. But, we thought we were going to get killed for sure. And, just for your information, through business contacts and being friends with Mr. Lerner as an employer, uh, as an employee of his, uh, he, uh, we got tickets to go to the first game that was ever played in the Dean Dome. That was a memorable night. And then, one other special, uh, the year that, uh, the Olympic team was coached by Bobby Knight, Mr. Lerner took all of us to dinner and took us to the, uh, Olympic team, which included players such as Michael Jordan, to the game and told us we had the best seats in the house. And, we all laughed thinking, "Sure Mort, you've told us that story before." And, the best seats in the house that night were true. We sat right behind the Olympic team's bench. Every time they called a time out, every time there was something to be said, we were right there and we heard it word-for-word. You ought to hear Bobby Knight at a time out in the huddle. Uh, I guess that's about all. I'm 55 years old. I don't want to work much longer, I'm tired of it. Uh, I want to see you three kids get grown and out on your own and be successful and enjoy your lives. I don't know what else to say on this damn tape, so I think I'm going to hang up right now. I hope I talked long enough. Dad. Good night.