Cleanup, Crepe Myrtles and Health Care: Caddell-Grisham Award honoree’s influence spans from picking up litter to fundraising for nonprofits

By Deborah Storey  | Living 50 Plus

Decatur Morgan Hospital Foundation is honoring newspaper publisher Clint Shelton for his support of the hospital and overall work in the community.

Shelton, 59, publisher of The Decatur Daily, is one of three recipients of the Caddell-Grisham Award presented each year at a black-tie gala.

“Clint has supported Decatur Morgan Hospital for years and also has a determination to make Decatur and Morgan County a better place to live,” said Noel Lovelace, president of the Decatur Morgan Hospital Foundation and vice president of development.

“He served on the DMH Foundation board for several years and is still very active today — participating in events including Dragon Boat and Power of Pink to our Gala event,” she said.

Lovelace said Shelton’s passion is cleaning up Decatur — literally — “from keeping the crepe myrtles trimmed properly, even if it means doing it himself, to picking up litter off the streets and in the creeks.

“He often walks to work and picks up trash on the way,” Lovelace said.

In 2018, she said, Shelton spent several weekends alongside work-release program inmates and volunteers to clean the refuge area along Country Club Road, Dry Branch Creek and other areas in Northwest Decatur.

Helping the community is just part of his family’s legacy.

“You try to help in any way that you can and plug holes and find things that will work,” Shelton said.

He certainly stays busy doing it.

Shelton is chair of the Salvation Army board and the Alabama Center for the Arts Foundation. He has served on the boards of the Princess Theatre, Boys & Girls Club, Mental Health Association, Morgan County United Way, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Pryor Field Airport Authority and Athens State University.

He co-chaired the Carnegie Visual Arts Center’s capital campaign and Decatur Morgan Hospital’s oncology campaign. He served as Decatur Jaycees president and was Riverfest chairman for two of the event’s first three years.

Lovelace added that Shelton has been very involved in downtown economic development and was key to establishing the Alabama Center for the Arts there.

“We’ve been working on higher education with the Alabama Center for the Arts,” Shelton said, which brings a stronger college presence. “You want those sharp, engaged kids around you and they help a downtown flourish.”

Mutual respect

While hospital leaders lauded Shelton’s support, Shelton had just as many good things to say in return about the hospital.

“The hospital means everything to the community,” Shelton said. “Health care obviously is one of the most important pillars of the community. It’s just crucial. It’s incalculable what the impact on the city is.”

Shelton said not only is quality health care vital to the Decatur area, but so is the economic impact.

“You just want good doctors in your town. They’re economic engines. The way I want to live my life is, I want to have good doctors all around me. We’ve got that at Decatur Morgan,” he said.

Shelton recalled the time he heard an impressive new doctor speak at a local Kiwanis Club meeting. He walked out thinking “Decatur just landed an all-star.”

“Once you get people like that, obviously it will attract more,” he said.

In 2012, Huntsville Hospital brought Decatur General into its wide care-service region of north Alabama and southern Tennessee as part of a 40-year lease partnership. The arrangement seems to have worked out well so far, Shelton believes.

“Huntsville Hospital has done a good job of taking ownership of Decatur Morgan. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen in my lifetime,” he said. “From my perspective it looks like it’s been really good.”

He praised Kelli Powers’ leadership as Decatur hospital president, as well as the entire staff’s dedication during the worst days of COVID.

“It’s just all across the board” he said of the “fantastic” staff.

As Decatur’s hospital continues to expand services and specialties, local residents benefit by having most of the care they need close to home, he said.

“I just can’t tell you how convenient it is having a loved one right in your back yard when they’re going through what they go through” in the hospital with a serious ailment, he said.

Newspaper dynasty

Shelton is president and owner of the Tennessee Valley Media Company, which publishes two daily newspapers, seven weeklies, 14 websites and multiple magazines. He is the fourth Shelton to serve as The Decatur Daily’s publisher. The Shelton family legacy dates to the early 1900s.

In 1912, Kentucky-born William Randolph Shelton published the first edition. His son Barrett Shelton followed him as publisher in 1924. His son, Barrett C. Shelton Jr., took over in 1984.

When William Randolph Shelton started the paper, Decatur was two towns — Decatur and Albany, Clint Shelton said, and “they didn’t like each other.” Local business leaders “gave (William Shelton) all the stock in the newspaper,” he said, and begged him to keep it running.

“He did it for like eight years to try to help get the town united,” Clint Shelton said.

As publisher for more than 60 years, Shelton’s grandfather “worked all the time,” he said.

He “was just instrumental in getting a lot of that industry up and down the river,” such as Wolverine Tube and Alabama Farmers Co-op.

After graduating from Decatur High School in 1982, Clint Shelton earned a degree from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, in 1986. He attended the University of Georgia’s Media Management master’s degree program for two years.

He worked for Boone Newspaper in Waxahachie, Texas, then returned to The Decatur Daily in 1993 as assistant to the publisher and later general manager.

In 2010 his father told him it was time to take over and “pretty much dumped everything on my desk,” Shelton recalled with a laugh.

In an era where many newspapers are dropping their print product entirely, The Decatur Daily devised a compromise for its readers by sending the printed newspaper through the mail. (In 2018, publication moved to five days a week.)

Shelton called it “one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.”

“Our older readers are just begging us to stay in print,” he said. “They don’t care what time it gets there.”

Keeping a newspaper presence is vital to a community, he believes.

“Just to get the facts out there, just to keep an eye on city hall — to let people know what’s going on,” he said.