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Charles and Linda Shackelford key partners in helping OSU grow gardening enthusiasm, industry support

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Charles and Linda Shackelford never really saw themselves as champions of horticulture, but their success in growing TLC – one of the Southern Plains’ top florist, greenhouse and nursery businesses – made spreading their own brand of “tender loving care” to gardening enthusiasts and the industry a natural progression.

“Now retired and having sold the family business, their legacy of support lives on through the programs and scholarships they initiated that continue to provide a positive and lasting influence on the lives of so many,” said Janet Cole, head of Oklahoma State University’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.

One of the most far-reaching influences has a direct tie to the department: The OSU Charles and Linda Shackelford Endowed Professorship of Floriculture, held by Mike Schnelle, a university faculty member and Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ornamentals specialist since 1989.

In keeping with the Shackelfords’ mindset, Schnelle’s “TLC” to the industry encompasses a variety of support activities, from consultations and on-site visits to greenhouse and nursery operations to the creation of fact sheets, circulars and workshops that provide ready access to the latest research-based horticulture and related business information.

Add to that list his ongoing efforts with greenhouse and urban integrated pest management, plant material conferences and specialty cut flower, poinsettia trials and other plant material demonstration plots.

“Mike also works closely with a number of allied-industry professionals, such as landscape architects, urban foresters, arborists and landscapers, and he assists with our consumer horticulture programs and statewide Master Gardener training sessions,” Cole said.

Little wonder then that Charles and Linda are quick to brag on him, with Schnelle just as quickly making sure people know and appreciate the Shackelfords’ many contributions.

“They have been active supporters of community development statewide, served as officers and leaders in various trade organizations such as the Oklahoma Greenhouse Growers’ Association and were a longtime underwriter of OSU Cooperative Extension’s ‘Oklahoma Gardening’ television program, one of the most popular and longest running shows on OETA, now in its 42nd season,” Schnelle said.

The Shackelfords always just thought of it all as their way of saying “thanks” and spreading their good fortune to others, for they have never forgotten their successes were born of very humble beginnings.

Charles and his sister Cleo had started a small nursery in 1967.

“We were very much a mom-and-pop shop in the early days,” he said. “Eventually, Linda replaced Cleo in the business. Linda and I talked about expanding, but it’s hard when you have zero dollars.”

An OSU alumnus with a degree in plant pathology, Charles married Linda in 1966. She had been studying science education in college. The dream was always there, though, built around the basic concept that he could do the growing and she could do the selling. Their daughter Terri was born and then one day they finally decided to take a “leap of faith.”

“Jimmy Carter was the U.S. President and we borrowed money at 21 percent, I believe it was,” Linda said. “We then had a silent partner invest $200,000 in our startup. Somebody suggested the name ‘TLC’ and I thought, ‘tender loving care, what a perfect concept.’ Then we realized the acronym also could mean Terri-Linda-Charles. God was telling us something.”

The doors to TLC opened in 1980. Their goal was to offer quality plants at a reasonable price. What TLC became as the years passed, in Charles’ words, was a “plant supermarket.”

“We kept growing but never lost sight of our core belief that a good product and good service is what a customer desires and deserves,” the Shackelfords shared. “As a result we attracted a very loyal and diverse customer base. TLC literally became a garden center.”

TLC also started consistently appearing on national lists showcasing the nation’s top garden, greenhouse and nursery businesses. In 2002, they started their own gardening television program, “Let’s Talk Gardening.” But their roots run deep. They never forget their beginnings and the values and life lessons instilled in them.

“Many, many years ago, I was a country boy growing up with FFA, which I feel played a big role in helping me develop my confidence and belief that while hard work doesn’t guarantee success, you will never have success without it,” Charles said. “God gives you opportunities. You have to be ready and willing to do your part.”

When the opportunity arose to fund an endowed horticulture professorship at OSU, the Shackelfords were quick to do so, explaining that everything “kind of came together” neatly. Charles and Linda provided $250,000 toward the endowment. Their donation was matched by fellow OSU alumnus T. Boone Pickens, and those combined funds were then matched by the state of Oklahoma, resulting in a $1 million total gift to create the Charles and Linda Shackelford Endowed Professorship of Floriculture.

“As a land-grant institution, we measure our successes by how we help others to succeed. A significant part of our ability to do that is made possible through the generosity of donors and supporters such as Charles and Linda Shackelford,” said Tom Coon, OSU vice president in charge of the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. “They have been more than just stakeholders. They have been cooperating partners and mentors to our faculty, staff and students. They have helped us better serve the people and communities of Oklahoma.”

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