By Liz Collin

Originally published Sept. 23, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — He sat behind the anchor desk at WCCO for more than 30 years before his retirement in 2010.

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But, due to a recent health setback Don Shelby never made it on stage for his latest production.

We caught up with our former colleague and friend about his latest passion project that took an unexpected turn.

(credit: CBS)

The book “Main Street” by Sinclair Lewis changed the way the world looked at small towns a century ago. It was penned by Minnesota’s most successful writer and novelist.

“I’ve always been a fan of Sinclair Lewis both as a historic figure and also because he was a hometown guy,” Shelby said.

It was a few years ago when Shelby signed on to help mark 100 years since “Main Street”.

He was set to play a journalist on stage who dreamed of interviewing Lewis, the Sauk Centre legend.

Jim Gambone is the producer and director of the project.

“The story kind of evolves and not only brings back Sinclair Lewis for the interview but brings back his two former wives,” Gambone said.

Gambone brought “The Life and Loves of Sinclair Lewis” to life, an original script to play out in-person until the pandemic changed plans.

“It was a real struggle to figure out what to do,” Gambone said.

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It’s when the project morphed into a streaming video. Still, not before more improv.

“Four days before he was to start rehearsals with the rest of the group as being the person who had the longest continued relationship we had to find a new actor,” Gambone said.

“On that day and for two weeks following I could not speak two words,” Shelby recalled.

Shelby suffered another stroke in July, 17 years after one that took him off the anchor desk at WCCO for months.

“I’m in the process now of re-learning how to speak,” he added.

It can be hard to tell in short conversations. But, acting was quickly ruled out.

Terry Hempleman stepped in to replace Shelby on stage.

It’s a performance that they hope will attract a new generation to a local giant.

“That’s the first comment people make, ‘We didn’t know he was so relevant,’” Gambone said.

“I have this fascination of not only his skill as a writer but his forethought and those things that he always knew were going to affect the human condition,” Shelby added.

Shelby will have surgery at Mayo Clinic next week with the hope it will prevent him from suffering more strokes moving forward.

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To see the 80-minute production of “The Life and Loves of Sinclair Lewis,” click here.

Liz Collin