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The last mug: California couple makes Dakotas trip to purchase mug for their collection

Michael "Doc" and Tina Shelton point to the state of North Dakota on a map in their kitchen, surrounded by mugs from 49 states. Missing the last North Dakota mug to complete the collection, they made a trip to Dickinson and Bismarck to purchase one in September. The photo was turned into a postcard to be shared with their friends. (Submitted Photo)1 / 2
Just before leaving North Dakota on Sept. 25, Tina admires agun collection at the Cenex Station in Belfield, and holds up her coveted North Dakota mug. (Submitted Photo)2 / 2

Michael "Doc" and Tina Shelton recently made a trip from Alta Loma, Calif., to North Dakota on a quest.

The retired couple was looking to buy the final coffee mug in their state collection.

Having taught engineering at Cal Poly Pomona University, they started collecting coffee mugs while traveling with teams of engineering students who built and raced solar-powered vehicles across the United States, Australia and Japan.

"We started collecting mugs 25 years ago at this place and that place," she said from her home. "We wanted to pick a theme and thought, let's do the 50 United States."

In 2015, they collected Mississippi and Louisiana. That left only one mug to get—North Dakota.

They flew from Los Angeles to South Dakota, rented a car and went mug hunting.

"North Dakota does not have as many tourist-type stores as other states," Tina said. "A beautiful mug was found Sept. 22 at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck."

Tina estimated that North Dakota mug cost several thousand dollars to obtain.

The Sheltons' collection is prominently displayed on a kitchen wall.

Prior to embarking on the trip, they took a photo of themselves pointing to North Dakota on the map. The photo was made into postcards that were send to friends and former students. Approximately 160 postcards were sent out to celebrate the completion of this goal, she said.

Tina's objective each day is to, "Share joy moments with people." On this trip, she was able to do that with numerous people she met either physically as they traveled, or with the "other travelers," who were updated with nightly emails, "Tina's Tales from the Dakotas."

Just before leaving North Dakota on Sept. 25, the Sheltons stopped at the Cenex station in Belfield where they found a mug identical to the one they had already purchased, as well as several others.

"We bought a few more mugs so that expenses to obtain each mug was divided by four—roughly $1,000 per mug," she said with a chuckle. "The time in North Dakota was so pleasant. Theodore Roosevelt (National) Park was beautiful. People were friendly. The countryside was spectacular."

She said they also visited the Lawrence Welk Homestead near Strasburg, and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota's Black Hills.

The Microtel Inn & Suites in Dickinson was one of their lodging choices on Sept. 25, where they shared their story with general manager Misti Williams.

"I thought it was really awesome," Williams said. "They told me what they were doing here and about the mug—that was real dedication. ... Instead of ordering a mug on the Internet, they came in person. Isn't that neat?"

Now in their fifth year of retirement, the Sheltons are considering their next great adventure. Friends have suggested hunting for mugs in Europe or Australia.

"We don't have much more wall space," she said. "Retirement is not a matter of age. You have to decide what makes you happy."

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