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‘Matriarch’ of La Plata County Fair has no plans to retire

92-year old Emma Shock still volunteers at club she help found in the 1950s

No one loves the La Plata County Fair as much as Emma Shock. As the 70th year of the annual event closes down, the 92-year-old says goodbye to one of her favorite parts of the year.

“Christmas is good, Easter is good, but I actually really like the fair,” Shock said. “It’s pretty much at the top. The priority is pretty high there.”

Shock has not missed a La Plata County Fair since the 1950s when she started an agriculture club with her stepfather in Allison. She worked with the club, now named the Mount Allison Go-Getters 4-H Club, for the entirety of its nearly 70 years of existence.

She also remains heavily involved in the La Plata County 4-H community. Shock serves as the 4-H economic superintendent for the fair, which oversees the projects related to food and clothing. She checks in the projects, makes sure they get judged properly, notifies winners and helps those winners ensure they register for the state fair correctly.

“She’s like our matriarch,” said Greg Felsen, the La Plata County 4-H youth development extension agent. “She’s a wealth of knowledge and an example of how 4-H youth programming can turn into responsible caring adults in the community. She just means the world to our local 4-H programming.”

She attends the monthly Mount Allison meetings, where she teaches about 20 kids lessons on cake decorating. Members consistently ask her for advice on sewing or heritage arts projects, said Mount Allison club leader Teddi Baird-Tharp.

On top of attending the Mount Allison 4-H club every month, she judges competitions in other county state fairs and teaches 4-H lessons during the summer that consist of home economics.

“She, to me, epitomizes 4-H because she’s been at it for so long,” Baird-Tharp said. “She’s very fair, she’s very honest, she has high integrity. She just is 4-H to me.”

She also chaperones 4-H trips to Denver and Fort Collins for leadership-development conferences. And for the last 20 years, she has traveled to the 4-H Western Regional Leadership Forum, which has taken her to places such as Alberta, Canada; Alaska; Hawaii; and San Diego. At the regional conferences, she is routinely sought out by volunteers who want to meet the 92-year-old volunteer.

“Most of the people who had been going had sought her out,” Baird-Tharp said. “So many people were coming up to her. It just shows how important she is not only to us in La Plata County but regionally as well.”

Shock serves as a mentor for both Baird-Tharp and Felsen, who said Shock might be the oldest 4-H volunteer in the state, and quite possibly in the nation.

“For someone to continue to volunteer well into their older years of life, it’s pretty amazing,” Felsen said. “She’s inspiring. I hope that I have that in me when I’m 90.”

Shock’s favorite part about being involved with 4-H is the interactions and connections she makes with children, she said.

“I like to see them learn and the enthusiasm that they have,” Shock said.

Even if she can’t physically participate in an event the club is doing, she still finds ways to participate. If the group goes bowling, she’ll watch and cheer them on. Recently, the Mount Allison group cleaned trails around Navajo Lake State Park. When the group was done, Shock was there waiting for them.

“She likes to see the kids do whatever it is they’re doing,” Baird-Tharp said. “The kids love her. They run up to her and give her a hug. Everyone knows Miss Emma.”

Shock believes that 4-H teaches valuable lifelong skills for its members. Her three children participated in the program, and she has numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren who have participated in it as well.

“4-H makes the kids so self-determined,” she said. “I’ve seen kids really come out of their shell. They get real confident and are able to talk to people. It’s just really good for kids.”

While volunteering for the livestock club she formed in Allison, she worked as the head cook in the cafeteria at Allison School until she quit in 1972.

“I went home and told my husband that I don’t think I can do this for the rest of my life,” she said. “He said, ‘Why don’t you go quit and go to college?’ So I did.”

Shock attended Fort Lewis College, where she received an education degree and taught at Ignacio High School from 1978 to 1992. She was Baird-Tharpe’s fourth-grade teacher while helping her out with the club after school.

Throughout her nearly 70 years of volunteering, Shock has witnessed a plethora of changes. She saw the fairgrounds parking lot be paved, watched the data collecting get computerized and witnessed a wave of urban children take interest in 4-H, which used to be seen primarily as a club for “country kids.”

“If you want change, there will be change,” Shock said. “If there’s something that would be better, then it should be changed. I don’t mind change if it’s for the best. You need to think about what you do have and how good it is, but then you have to think about what you can improve. You can always improve something.”

Shock has done a lot of research on the benefits of staying involved as a person ages. The volunteering helps her stay in good spirits and keeps her mind sharp.

“You have to stay active in your old age,” she said.

Felsen, who met Shock in 2010, has also been inspired by her continued involvement. Felsen has traveled to various places around the world and said Shock is one of the most influential people he’s ever met.

“Certain times you run into people that are just in your soul,” he said. “Her genuine demeanor as a human being is nice, and being kind to people just spreads through our community. She is a perfect example of someone that does this only for the love of working for youth. That’s pretty special in today’s world.”

Shock has no plans to retire anytime soon.

“I’ll probably always be involved,” she said. “I like to do this.”


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