“Pepsi Man” Makes Huge Impression on Campus


John Shaw, a familiar face on campus, has dedicated his life to spreading love and charity at Appalachian State.

For the 38-year-old self-proclaimed introvert, this mission has never been easy for Shaw. He’s taking it one day at a time; and its going famously.

Some students know him as “the Pepsi Guy”, others know him as John, and some can’t put a name to the face at all.

Things have always been this way for Shaw in the twelve years he has worked on campus. However, a new found attitude is beginning to have an effect on his popularity.

Despite not being a morning person, Shaw wakes up early every day to drive into work, just a fifteen minute commute from his home in Ashe County.

“I hate waking up so I get out of the bed at the last second,” Shaw describes his mornings with dread. “From the time I get in my truck to the time I get to campus, I intentionally try to make myself happy. I have to put my game face on because I know I’ll have a lot to do.”

Shaw’s workday begins at 7a.m and doesn’t end until he clocks out at 7:30p.m. “I usually don’t have time for a lunch break so I pack microwave meals that only take five minutes to eat.”

He restocks around 35 machines in one day, just over a third of his 95 total machines. Anyone who tries to take Shaw’s route for a day should think again. “I try to plan vacations when you all are gone. I don’t want anyone else running my route, you have to fill the machines a very specific way.”

Shaw takes great pride in his work, knowing that he provides customers with a little taste of joy. “This is the best job I’ve ever had, I will boldly declare that and mainly because I pretty much work for all of you. Every one of you is like my boss.”

However, he hasn’t always had such warm feelings about his job. When Shaw first began his life as ‘The Pepsi Guy’, he was not in a good place.

Shaw has experienced bouts of depression, stemming from some difficult childhood events.

Born and raised in Boone, he even attended Watauga High School, right outside of campus. Raised by both parents along with two younger siblings, his childhood was no cake walk.

“We grew up really poor but we didn’t really notice at the time. When we first moved into our house we had to run some cattle out of it. So, if anyone asks if I was raised in a barn, I guess the answer is yes,” recalled Shaw.

He was reserved with a touch of boisterousness as the oldest son. Shaw remembers being held responsible for essentially everything in his childhood and early adult life. “I’ve never had my parents make a car payment or an insurance payment for me.”

His quiet side was taken advantage of by bullies when he was in 7th grade.

The struggles he faced in middle school were the direct cause of his first serious depression.

“In high school I went out for the football team, but the first few times I got hit, it felt like I was back in middle school again.”

Struggling to get involved in sports or clubs, Shaw spent most of his high school years going to class and heading straight back home. It was at this time that a fear of public speaking began to develop in his life.

Shaw’s fight with depression continued when he began working his job for Pepsi on Appalachians campus.

“For the first 5 years I was pretty much miserable with this job. There was a period of time where I would work, go home, and pretty much not talk to people. So I guess, in a way, the depression came back in my late 20’s.”

He sat back and watched as his friends got married and had children. Shaw, still single, was seeing pictures of people his age taking their kids to their first day of school.

He wondered if he would ever be the dad and husband in one of those pictures.

“I’ve never been there, never been on a date, as weird as that sounds. I have a fear of rejection.”

He has a different point of view on where love should begin. “If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love someone else.”

Though he trusts he will find love someday, Shaw refuses to force it; he is focusing on loving himself for now.

This conscious choice is a part of what helped Shaw make an important change towards contentment in his life.

Fed up with unhappiness, he started living with more motivation and new goals. Eager to attend wide varieties of on-campus events, he began introducing himself to more students and faculty. Shaw even started volunteering for charitable causes wherever he saw a need.

Allowing his natural love for philanthropy to take over, Shaw decided to start participating in the Polar Plunge, an event that benefits the Special Olympics athletes in Watauga County.

After a few icy cold jumps, he decided to do more than just “plunge” on the day of the event.

“I had to attack my fear head on. It was on a very personal level; that’s one of the reasons why I took on the challenge,” tells Shaw of his decision to conquer his fear of public speaking by promoting and educating people about the Polar Plunge.

He did so by speaking at Greek organizations chapter meetings and other club gatherings. This was extremely out of character for Shaw and brought about some nerves and anxiety.

However, he didn’t stop there. Shaw became a host for the annual Special Olympics BBQ dinner held as a partner fundraiser to the Polar Plunge.

This year he was able to help raise around 1,300 for the cause and gained more attraction to the event.

He took his helping hand to an extreme in the fall of 2014 when Appalachian was in the midst of a campus crisis.

“On a rainy, cold night I was at a prayer walk on campus. We were praying for the safe return of my daughter, Anna,” said Dan Smith, father of Anna Smith, former missing ASU student. “When I spoke with John I learned that he had been spending every free minute he had searching trails around the area.”

Shaw had taken his love for hiking and turned it into a search mission.

“He agreed to help without hesitation. He came to our motel and discussed searched trails for over an hour or more,” recalls Smith.

He may be the “Pepsi Guy” to some, but to the Smith family, Shaw is a hero.

“He lives not for himself, but for others. This is what heroes do, isn’t it?” said Smith.

Since his dedication to helping others has kicked in, the depression has fled. Shaw finds peace and enjoyment in knowing that through helping others, you can help yourself.

“Win the day. When you go to bed at night, feel like you’ve accomplished something. And if you don’t win it, that’s okay, just try again the next day.”

Shaw is becoming so much more than just a familiar face.