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Star Democrat: Longtime educator, business owner honored

EASTON — Longtime educator, businesswoman and Talbot County native Charlene Caldwell DeShields has been excelling at two jobs for a long time.

So has her cousin Ricky Caldwell and his associate Leroy Potter. That’s the way they were raised, and their heritage of industriousness and service to Talbot County Public Schools and to the wider community attracted the notice of Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who recognized them for their contributions on Thursday, April 19.

DeShields is the owner of the 83-year-old Caldwell Shoe Repair at 15 N. West St. in Easton, a shop she inherited from her father upon his passing in 1997. She also teaches first grade at Easton Elementary School — Dobson.

Franchot thanked DeShields, Potter and Caldwell “on behalf of grateful Marylanders” for their work in providing exceptional customer service at the “historic, minority-owned business.”

He also honored them for their service to the students of Talbot County.

“We couldn’t be prouder of you, and we thank you very much for everything you do to strengthen the community, particularly the kids,” Franchot said.

Franchot recognized DeShields with a second certificate of recognition from the state, this one for her “41 years of teaching and advocating for the needs of the children of Talbot County Public Schools ... with my deepest appreciation for your passion, your energy, your dedication — as well as your unwavering commitment.”

“And that doesn’t mean you’re retiring, OK?” said Talbot County Public Schools Superintendent Kelly Griffith, who stopped by the shop where she also is a customer.

“I want to stay and see the new school,” DeShields said.

“Teaching is my love and my life,” she said. “My boys and girls are my love and my life. Each and every day, I love it, I live it. My 41 years of service has been a jewel.

“And serving the community (as a business owner) is also part of me, and I just want to thank you all so much. My father and mother, I’m sure, and Ricky’s father, Uncle Stanley — we are so humbled to serve, and so happy.”

“We don’t have many minority businesses here in town, and this is something we’re trying to hold on to and to continue the legacy,” DeShields said. “We know that everybody can go to Walmart and Target (and) get a new pair of shoes, but without Leroy and Ricky and the services they give to the community — it does take a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to keep in our community. God bless you. Thank you so much for this.”

DeShields left her classroom on Glenwood Avenue to run over to the shop a few blocks away for Franchot’s surprise visit at 2 p.m. “My superintendent and my principal made me come,” she said. Although she was in the middle of a lesson, she said, “I would do anything for (them).”

“I didn’t know it was this big,” DeShields said. “I just got an email saying to come and visit the shoe shop.”

“I should have brought my whole class up here,” she said.

DeShields said she has “no idea how to repair shoes.” That’s the job of Caldwell and Potter, who began working together at the shop after school nearly 50 years ago.

Potter was in charge of maintenance at Easton Elementary School for more than 40 years, retiring in 2012. “I’ve worked two jobs all my life,” Potter said. He said his parents taught him, “If you want anything, you have to work for it.” Caldwell drove a school bus and retired from TCPS in 2009. He’s worked part time for Henry Funeral Home in Cambridge for 17 years. His daughter Lynne Caldwell has worked in the comptroller’s office in compliance for 15 years.

Local leaders showed up for the occasion, including longtime customers Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, Talbot County Council President Jennifer Williams, and Easton Town Councilman and Talbot County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Al Silverstein.

John Wingrove, community liaison for U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, also brought greetings and appreciation from Harris.

In the midst of the Great Depression, Stanley Caldwell invested $100 earned on his father’s farm, and $50 borrowed from a friend, to establish the shop in its original location on Dover Street where the Talbot County Free Library is now. Caldwell was one of 14 children who grew up on a farm in McDaniel, near Tilghman.

Stanley and his brother Charles moved the shop to its present location in the 1960s.

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