Larry Shelton, the top-hatted greeter at the Grove Park Inn, is a decorated war hero, spent 33 years as a civil engineer inspecting bridges, makes balloon animals as Brushes the Clown at children’s hospitals and even worked as the Wal-Mart Santa Claus. Spending long hours greeting guests at the Grove Park Inn? Piece of cake.
“It gets hot in the summer. But my background of being military — standing all day? I can do that. I’ve always done stressful work. I push myself to the limits.”
Decked out in a fire engine red Beefeater uniform, Shelton is probably one of the most familiar faces at the resort — and certainly the most photographed. His job is to greet incoming guests with a smile and a handshake and direct them on how to check in. He first took the position six years ago after being forced to retired from his civil engineering job because of a back injury.
But for Shelton, a self-described people person, being the hotel’s greeter is the perfect combination of the two things he loves: helping people and kids. “I love kids. I don’t have any kids so that’s a big thing, getting to see the kids. They call me ‘toppum hat’ man.”
Shelton’s love of children is what led to one of his favorite encounters with a hotel guest. After spending years passing out Dum Dum Lollipops to kids, Shelton handed one to a young girl only to have the gentleman she was with laugh and point to his license tag. The plate said DUM DUM. Turns out it was Mr. Spangler, the owner of the candy company.
“Spangler said, ‘That’s the first time anybody’s offered me a Dum Dum’,” recalls Shelton. “So I told him I was his biggest supplier. He asked for my home address and three days later my wife walked out on the porch and there was a big box there that had every kind of candy you could think of.”
Spangler isn’t the only big-name guest that Shelton has greeted. He’s met a long string of celebrities including Andie McDowell, John Goodman, William Shatner, Jim Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. But his favorite encounters with guests are the simpler kind. Shelton often recommends that wine be sent to guests who are celebrating special occasions — and sometimes even when it looks like someone could just use a little pick-me-up. For Shelton, making peoples’ days just a little bit brighter is all in a days work.
“Everybody to me is special,” says Shelton. “I enjoy people. Anybody who comes in is special to me and I’m going to try to take care of you. I go out of my way.”