New PSD memberﾠ felt obligation to serve
When Tom Shipley was running an antique shop in Indianapolis, the furthest thing from his mind was wastewater technology.ﾠ Now he studies it all the time. The Slaty Fork businessman is the newest member of the three-man Pocahontas Public Service District (PSD) board.
Shipley's family has deep roots in Pocahontas County but he grew up in Charleston and Parkersburg, where his father worked for DuPont. Tom's mother was a housewife and classmate of Senator Robert C. Byrd.
After a couple years of college at WVU and Illinois State, Shipley headed west, to California, with dreams of becoming an actor. Shipley found little work acting but was unwilling to live like a starving actor.
"I was scared of living in a one-room with cockroaches and a light bulb hanging down from the ceiling, so I tried too hard to earn a living," he said. "I ended up taking odd jobs. I would work two or three jobs and I became known as the guy who parked the cars or the security guard or the box office ticket taker instead of the actor or the singer."
Ultimately frustrated with his Hollywood experience, Shipley moved to Indianapolis in 1994 and opened a small antique shop. Applying the same work ethic that kept him from starving in Hollywood, Shipley built his business from the ground up.
"I started an antiques business and sold mid-century modern stuff from the 1950s, 60s and 70s," he said. "I established myself fairly well and I was on HGTV's 'Home Across America' with Joe Ruggiero. That was one of their early TV programs and they did a thing on my downtown loft."
Unaware at the time, the TV appearance would change his life. An Ohio relative saw Shipley on TV and called the antique dealer with a proposition.ﾠ
"My great uncle Dave Sharp lived in Cincinatti and he saw me on that program," he said. "He called me up and he said, 'Tom, I saw you on that TV and that was really good.'"
Shipley told his great uncle that his business was doing well.
"He said, 'well, that's a shame because you're going to have to give all that up,"
Why? Shipley asked his great uncle.
"Because I want you to come down and take over this farm and our country store."
At first, Shipley told his uncle, "It isn't going to happen."
But lured by the attraction of a peaceful life in beautiful Pocahontas County and constantly badgered by Great Uncle Dave, Shipley gave up his antique business and moved to Slaty Fork in 2004.
Two weeks after taking over Sharp's Country Store, Shipley learned the PSD planned to use the farm to build a sewage plant.ﾠ
A four-year public relations campaign and political battle resulted in victory for Shipley in 2008, when the PSD dropped plans to take his family farm and chose a different site for the sewage plant. Shipley gives most of the credit to his friends and neighbors for pitching in to save the Sharp Farm.
The store owner was immediately embroiled in a second fight to keep the sewage plant off the banks of the Elk River. Shipley said he and his mother both felt a strong obligation to stay in the fight and help the neighbors who had helped them.
"So many people had helped us and there was still an issue," he said. "My mom told me, 'we're going to stay in it and we're going to help the people that helped us.'"
The second battle against county government resulted in another victory for Shipley when the PSD voted to move the plant away from the Elk River, further up the mountain on Snowshoe Drive.
After two battles against the powers that be, Shipley just wanted to take it easy and run his store. But, after board member Scott Millican resigned in November, 2009, several people asked him to submit his name to the county commission for the vacant seat.
"There was some discussion about me getting on the PSD," he said. "I'm not proud of this but I'm a human being. I was not eager to do it because I've got to earn a living. I've got to run a business so that I have a future and my family has a future. This fight took every ounce of energy."
Ultimately,ﾠ Shipley felt obligated to put his name in the hat.
"I had to really, seriously think about it and my decision was that, 'yeah, it's going to be inconvenient and it's going to possibly keep me from getting my act together with my farm and living a peaceful, wonderful life, but I owe something to the community,'" he said.
Shipley says he enjoys working with fellow board members Mark Smith and Amon Tracey.
"It's a good working environment," he said. "It's a process and I'm still learning it.ﾠ My goal is to have our discussions open, so the community can participate."
The new board member said tourism is vital to the future of Pocahontas County.
"We can't ignore the fact that this community has become a tourism community," he said. "To develop in a way that would ignore the potential risks of ruining that - it's a green eco-tourism kind of thing that's happening - would be a bad move."
Shipley said protecting the environment does not mean no development.
"We've got to have progress," he said. "We have to do it in a way using state-of-the-art equipment and doing it the best way we can. A lot of that equipment is becoming more cost-effective as more and more communities bring it into play."
"If we go back to our farming roots and our traditional values that came from that, and also move forward with high-speed internet to bring in technologies that are compatible with the environment, we can move forward by expanding with different kinds of businesses."