Proving His Metal
For Asheboro’s Everette Sheffield, a hobby is both business and art
By Leah Hughes
Photographs by Sam Froelich
There’s a diamond-plate mailbox on Cable Creek Road, made out of the kind of metal you see on trailers and toolboxes. It stands beside the second driveway off Old N.C. Highway 49 just west of Asheboro. A friendly character made from assorted metal parts and wearing a welding shield holds a sign that reads SheffiBilt Metal Fabrication.
Down the short driveway stands a shop with a roof that looks a little like an oversize steel can turned on its side. A black and red quilt block hangs above the roll-up door.
Inside, Everette Sheffield sits in a rolling chair with his wife, Julie, beside him. A “Got to Be NC Ag” banner hangs on the wall. You can find him out here roughly each weekday from 8 a.m. until noon. Sheffield taught agriculture mechanics at Southwestern Randolph High School for 31 years. He was a year-round employee, so he wasn’t afforded those carefree summer months. When he retired in 2014, SheffiBilt became his retirement hobby. Since then, it’s turned into a full-fledged small business. But he’s still a retiree, so if he wants to take off to the beach or the mountains or simply decides he wants to be somewhere else on a random Tuesday, he goes. And SheffiBilt closes.
“It was a dream that manifested itself for 30 years,” Sheffield says. “I said, ‘Man, if I ever have a shop, this is what I want.’”
Sheffield’s shop is compact. The 30-by-40-foot structure fits just right in his backyard. The 16-foot ceiling has a hoist, so he can maneuver heavy pieces more easily. His “big ticket” items are trailers, grills and smokers. In the back, his newest “toy” is a PlasmaCam, or computer-aided machine, that cuts fancy designs in pieces of metal. This past winter, that new machine helped him branch into the home décor market with metal ribbon wreaths, snowmen, and door and wall hangings with custom initials.
“It’s sort of exploded here lately,” Sheffield says with a laugh. “Anytime there are more than 10 orders, I call that a frenzy.”
That’s the thing about retirement hobbies: When you’re good at them, they can get out of hand. But Sheffield enjoys this new role, setting his own schedule, thinking up creative projects, and meeting new people. He’s always been a people person.
Sheffield’s father taught agricultural education in Montgomery County, and Sheffield followed in his footsteps. After graduating from East Montgomery High School, he attended Sandhills Community College for two years and transferred to N.C. State University. He graduated from college in May 1984 and started at Southwestern Randolph on July 1.
Everette and Julie were next-door neighbors growing up in Biscoe. Like many kids, it took them a while to realize that a childhood companion might actually make a lifelong mate. They started dating in college and married in 1985.
Julie also worked at Southwestern Randolph, teaching business and technology classes. These days, she handles the books for SheffiBilt. And sometimes carries the boss title depending on whom you ask.
What makes Sheffield successful at SheffiBilt is the same thing that made him an award-winning teacher in the classroom — he loves people. When he retired, Sheffield had two Southwestern Randolph High School Teacher of the Year plaques. The second year he was also named Randolph County Teacher of the Year and was a regional finalist for North Carolina Teacher of the Year. But more important to him are the countless relationships he retains with his students.
When Sheffield needed someone to construct his shop, he called former student Wes Gillispie. Gillispie graduated from Southwestern Randolph in 2002, the oldest of three brothers who all took classes with Mr. Sheffield. Gillispie uses skills he learned in Sheffield’s metal-fabrication classes in his daily work. His construction business, Wes Craft, works on everything from kitchen renovations and custom cabinetry to constructing metal buildings and trailers.
“His classes were a lot of fun,” Gillispie says. “He’s just a big kid himself, so it was just like he was one of us.”
Sheffield and Gillispie eat breakfast together at the Heritage Diner in Asheboro about once a month. Sheffield recently asked Gillispie about building a paint booth addition to his shop.
“We call up each other and talk like any old friends,” Gillispie says.
Kenneth Rogers taught with Sheffield in the agriculture department at Southwest for 28 years. Before that, he did his student teaching with Sheffield’s father. Rogers also retired in 2014 and went to work with Sheffield in his shop. As educators, they complemented each other. Sheffield preferred the mechanics side of things, while Rogers gravitated toward horticulture. Together they led the school’s Future Farmers of America program, which consistently performed well at state and national competitions and was active in the school and surrounding community. For fundraisers, they sold poinsettias and citrus fruit at Christmas and cooked hundreds of pounds of pork barbecue.
“He has a heart for people,” Rogers says of Sheffield. “He was called to be a teacher. Some have that calling and some don’t, but he definitely does.”
Sheffield passed on that agricultural teaching tradition to his daughter, Caroline. The Trinity High School teacher is now in her fourth year as a third-generation agricultural educator. The N.C. State grad drew inspiration from both her father and her mother, majoring in agricultural education and minoring in agricultural business. She remembers her dad’s reaction when she told him her field of choice.
“I remember him saying, ‘Are you sure?’” she says. “But deep down inside, I think he was thinking, ‘That’s a good choice.’”
Caroline is impressed with her dad’s retirement-hobby-turned-small-business. She always thought he would tinker around with metal, but she didn’t imagine he would take it this far.
“He loves the people,” she says. “He really gets to know his customers. You don’t see bigger companies doing that. That’s what makes him so special.”
Each school day for 31 years, Mr. Sheffield held court in the hallway outside the shop at Southwestern Randolph. Between classes, students gathered around as he told stories and jokes. He undoubtedly had to reprimand someone every now and then, but those memories are few when compared with all the good ones.
“I couldn’t think of a better job,” Sheffield says. “I considered those boys and girls I taught my buddies.”
Those students can’t find him in the hallway at Southwest any longer, but they know that if they need him, they can pick up the phone or send him a Facebook message or even drop by his shop. It’s the one with the diamond-plate mailbox and the friendly character out front. h
Leah Hughes writes from her family farm in Jackson Creek, a rural community in Randolph County. She is a proud alumna of Southwestern Randolph High School, class of 2006.