BEMIDJI, Minn. — Long-time Minneapolis television anchor Don Shelby will be recognized as the recipient of the 2009 Distinguished Minnesotan Award during commencement ceremonies Friday, May 8, at Bemidji State University.
First presented by Bemidji State in 1981, the Distinguished Minnesotan Award acknowledges the contributions of current or former residents of the state who have performed exemplary service to the people of Minnesota or the United States.
Shelby has been using his gift of gab – and many other talents — to inform and entertain Minnesotans for nearly 30 years as a WCCO-TV news anchor and reporter. Although his flair for showmanship attracted him to media, his commitment to civics became the foundation of his career.
As a journalist, Shelby has listened to those suffering from injustices, asked tough questions of those in power and given voice to those who are infrequently heard. He prefers stories that challenge people to engage in civic discourse, find their own voice and take action accordingly. Over the years, he has found his calling as an advocate for Minnesota’s youth and more recently for clean energy and the environment.
Shelby finds peace in nature. What threatens nature, he finds, threatens his sense of justice.
“Ancient Ojibwe philosophy says that the earth is my mother,” says Shelby. “I can’t shake that symbol.”
In 2007, Shelby received a Leadership Award by Conservation Minnesota for his creation of WCCO TV’s “Project Energy,” a regular segment that focuses on energy and the environment. As a reporter, Shelby has had the privilege of sitting among the Inuit with Will Steger and watching the polar ice disappear.
“It becomes personal,” says Shelby of his experiences. “These are human beings whose lives hang in balance.”
Shelby joined WCCO-TV in 1978 as a reporter and has been the 10 p.m. news anchor since 1985. He founded the WCCO I-Team for investigative journalism and today leads “Good to Know,” an edgier news commentary. He also has his own weekday radio show on WCCO-AM.
Among his many memorable interviews, he counts former President Jimmy Carter and Paul McCartney as well as lesser-known heroes such as the rescuers of orphaned Romanian infants.
In recognition of his life’s work, Shelby was inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2007. He has won all five of the nation’s top awards for journalism, including three national Emmy Awards. In 1997, he received his second Peabody Award, the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, for his ongoing work for Minnesota’s youth.
Shelby also has received honors for his work in the community, including Minnesota Sportsman of the Year, Martin Luther King Humanitarian of the Year and the Great American Traditions Award by B’nai Brith.
Born in Muncie, Indiana, Shelby grew up playing basketball. He served in the U.S. Air Force in the late 1960s where he met his wife, then a secretary in Washington D.C. He shares his love of nature and the outdoors with their three daughters and enjoys diverse hobbies that include rock and ice climbing, gardening and primitive crafts.
Before Shelby retires in Dec. 2010, he has 20 major stories that he plans to cover. He is also working on a book of basketball-related stories and reflections, including a tribute to his mother who until her death remained his biggest fan.
For more information on the Distinguished Minnesotan Award or on commencement ceremonies at Bemidji State University, please contact the Records Office, located in Deputy Hall on the Bemidji State campus, at (218) 755-2020.
Recipients of Distinguished Minnesotan Award
1981 Sigurd Olson, naturalist and author
1982 Karl Kassulke, athlete and handicap advocate
1983 Janet Dearholt Esty, businesswoman and entrepreneur
1984 Frederick F. Manfred, author
1985 Dr. John Najarian, transplant surgeon
1986 Dr. Harlan Cleveland, political scientist
1987 Muriel Buck Humphrey Brown, advocate for the disadvantaged
1988 Elmer L. Andersen, businessman and former governor
1989 Curtis L. Carlson, businessman and philanthropist
1990 William S. Marvin, businessman and community leader
1991 Meridel LeSueur, writer and social activist
1992 Veda Ponikvar, newspaper publisher
1993 Nellie Stone Johnson, political and social activist
1994 Cheryl Dickson, leader in humanities programming
1995 William H. Kling, innovator in public radio
1996 Jerry Willet, businessman and former state senator
1997 Ann Bancroft, explorer of the North Pole and South Pole
1998 Bob Bergland, congressman and former U.S. secretary of agriculture
1999 Coya Knutson, congresswoman
2000 Jon Hassler, author and educator
2001 Libby Larsen, composer
2002 Rosalie Wahl, Minnesota Supreme Court justice
2003 Edgar Heteen, entrepreneur and snowmobile pioneer
2004 Herb Brooks, men’s ice hockey coach
2005 Gerald Vizenor, author and educator
2006 Kathleen Blatz, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court
2007 Paul Wellstone, U.S. Senator & Shiela Wellstone, advocate against domestic abuse
2008 Dr. Alex Cirillo, Jr., vice president for community affairs, 3M
2009 Don Shelby, television anchor