Chuck Sheldon had just finished mowing the lawn of his Daniel Island home when he came inside complaining to his wife Kim that his back hurt.
That was March 17. He visited a doctor and was told the shocking news: He had terminal bone cancer.
Within two months, Sheldon, an instrumental figure in the Coastal Carolina Corvette Club as vice president of membership, was dead at age 66. He died in his sleep May 9.
Between the grim diagnosis and his death, however, Sheldon was granted a much-desired wish. The former sales manager for Level Controls and then Daniel Island Real Estate got to see, sit in and enjoy a 2014 Corvette C7 that briefly stopped at his house.
How the club was able to reroute a C7, one of six in the world at the time, to Charleston is a clandestine, race-against-the-clock tale involving social media contacts, scores of e-mails, friends in high places and valuable assistance from General Motors and fellow Corvette owners.
The effort was so important and behind-the-scenes to all involved that GM adopted a code name, “Operation Chuck Sheldon.”
This wasn’t Sheldon’s first battle with cancer. Two-and-a-half years earlier he had esophageal cancer and underwent surgery. He got a clean bill of health, and the disease was not supposed to metastasize. But it did.
Almost as soon as club members learned of Sheldon’s bone cancer diagnosis, they set about thinking how to honor their friend and colleague. Liz Furmanek, who with husband Jim Furmanek are club members, heard the suggestion more than once, “Liz, wouldn’t it be great to get a C7.”
The first queries went out March 31. The club notified Henry Younger, an Alabama car buff, friend of the Charleston club and member of the national Corvette museum board in Bowling Green, Ky. Club members on Facebook got in touch with Harlan Charles, Corvette product and marketing manager in Detroit.
They also contacted Wendell Strode, executive director of the National Corvette Museum; John Fitzpatrick, marketing manager for Chevrolet Performance Cars; Dave Tatman, manager of the Corvette Bowling Green assembly plant; and Robert Owusu, Southeast district sales manager for GM in Savannah.
Two of the 2014 Corvettes were in Florida at the ritzy Barrett Jackson auction. Plans were tentatively worked out to bring one of the C7s, incidentally the first one built, to the Sheldon house on April 7.
Charles called Kim Sheldon on April 5 with the news. Aware of the cellphone conversations going on, Chuck Sheldon guessed, “How did you get the car?”
GM wanted to keep the effort under wraps and requested that no media and very few visitors be there.
On that Sunday, a small group of company officials, club members and Sheldon relatives and children assembled in front of the Blakeway Street house. Sheldon was in a wheelchair and also had a walker.
All of a sudden, a huge orange rig turned the corner. The crew rolled out the Torch Red C7 coupe. Sheldon’s face lit up. He examined the new Corvette and was able to climb into the driver’s seat. A while later, Sheldon got back into the car, started the ’Vette up and revved the engine. All the while, club members took photos.
Afterward, Sheldon told everyone there, “Thank you for making my dreams come true.”
The story has an epilogue. In late April, club members took part in the yearly “Birthday Bash” at the Corvette museum.
The Sheldons spearheaded a six-year money-raising effort to purchase an acre of NCM Motorsports Park, the Corvette racecourse complex that broke ground this year in Bowling Green.
At a “Winner’s Circle” banquet, the club was presented a deed to the acre, which cost $15,000. The Sheldons couldn’t attend but club members were able to Skype the presentation ceremony. “It was a proud, but tearful experience made even more so by the anonymous donation of an additional Motorsports Park acre by ‘Team Corvette’ and ‘Operation Chuck Sheldon,’” the club said in a write-up.
Reflecting on Sheldon, the club said he “will be dearly missed by many, many Corvette friends and car enthusiasts.” Corvette clubs across the region, the National Corvette Museum, even the Charleston area Porsche club sent condolences and/or contributed money.
Kim Sheldon, who with her husband shared an e-mail address tagged “chuckims,” voiced the close-knit attitude of the 116-member club.
She is originally from Ohio but has said, “I’m staying here. You are my family.”
For more, visit the club at www.4cccc.org.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542.