I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world when Shirley Shelton stopped by The Index-Journal one day to invite me to the unveiling of the portrait of her late husband Skip Shelton at the Arts Center of Greenwood. I was honored to be asked to attend this special event in her life.
Skip died on June 1 last year, just a few months past his 90th birthday which he celebrated with a party at the Arts Center, of which I was more than happy to be an attendee. It seemed as if the entire town was there. Really, it was just slightly more than a roomful of his closest friends and people he asked to be there.
When Skip died, I was allowed to do a tribute cartoon for our editorial page. It was a simple cartoon. It featured the side of Skip’s World War II plane “Frisco Frisky.” The real plane featured a classic pinup girl all dolled up and looking pretty. The cartoon had Skip’s pinup gal, but instead of looking all happy and glamorous, she was crying.
I had two copies made and framed. I have one hanging near my desk at work. The other, I gave it to Shirley. Her reaction to my gift to her made me feel like a million bucks.
Just like when a visit to the Arts Center to do do a story on an upcoming exhibit ended with about an hour-long chat-fest with Skip in his studio on the lower level there. Skip told some of the best stories you’d ever heard. Skip knew of my love for Sinatra, so there was always a story about Old Blue Eyes. When I finally had to break away, Skip gave me a print of one of his paintings which hangs in my dining room. I see it every day and I think of Skip.
There are reminders of Skip everywhere. There are murals in Greenwood and the surrounding communities. Index-Journal executive editor Richard Whiting has a charcoal portrait of himself in pirate gear done by Skip hanging in his office here at the paper. At the MACK in McCormick, Eric Williams, one of Skip’s students, is artist of the the month with Nicholas Zupp.
There is one thing I’m sad about. I wish I had shown Skip some of my drawings and caricatures.
Skip had his studio, which he shared with Shirley, at the Arts Center the last seven years of his life. Skip had a presence there that still lives on. Shirley still has the studio. People talk about him all the time.
I’m not surprised something was done to memorialize Skip. Donations were made and a photograph selected for the portrait. The portrait was taken by Mary Ann Summey of Trinity Street Photography in Abbeville. It’s of Skip standing next to a plane dressed in his flight gear. Very appropriate for this All-American icon.
During the ceremony Anne Craig, executive director of the Arts Center, welcomed everyone and said a few words about Skip. Others were invited to share stories and among those who did were Marianne and Toni Lenti. Shirley and Skip’s daughter Michelle removed the covering from the portrait. A champagne toast was made.

The portrait will be part of the “Fabric of a Soldier: A Tribute to Veterans” exhibit that’s at the Arts Center on May 12-31. The show is in partnership with The Museum and Greenwood Community Theatre. There is a reception from 5-7 p.m. May 30 at the Arts Center.
When the exhibit closes, the portrait will remain on permanent display at the Arts Center.
After leaving the unveiling on Tuesday, as I walked back to the office, I had another thought. I indeed was lucky to have Shirley invite me. While that was incredible and something I’ll never forget, I was truly a lucky man for having had Skip Shelton befriend me. We all were.

Sitarz can be reached at 864-943-2529 or via email at jsitarz@indexjournal.com. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.