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Parade grand marshal embodies ag tradition

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Virginia Shea

Deltarado Days is an opportunity for area residents to come together to celebrate our rich agricultural and ranching heritage. This year's theme, "Hats Off to Agriculture," embraces that heritage, as does the selection of Virginia Shea as parade grand marshal.

Virginia (Sidebottom) Shea was born and raised in Delta. Her mother was a teacher; her father ran a welding shop in Delta for 45 years. He invented a handheld onion weeder that's still used to this day.

Although Richard was also raised in Delta, he was four years older and their paths had never crossed before they met at a fireman's dance at the armory. Richard and Virginia were married in 1944. They have been lifelong members of St. Michael's Catholic Church; Richard's parents, John and Nellie (Ryan) were the first couple married in that church.

After their marriage, the Sheas moved to a small home on California Mesa. Kathleen and Suzie came along, then after a gap the family was completed with the addition of Marilyn, Jeanie and Jonni.

To accommodate their growing family, the Sheas purchased a larger home up the road which they occupied for 37 years.

They raised hay, barley, sugar beets, corn, beans, onions and a "fabulous" garden. Farming, in Richard's words, was "chicken one year, feathers the next." To generate more income, he began buying and selling cattle. He and four partners from Grand Junction leased a small feedlot near the Holly Sugar plant (near the site of Confluence Park). The cows were fed beet pulp, a byproduct of the sugar operation. Later the feedlot was moved to California Mesa.

Virginia tracked the buying and selling of the cattle, weighed silage (not her favorite job!) and cooked a lot of meals for Richard, their hired hand and the girls. She developed a passion for bridge, a pastime she still enjoys.

Farm life for the girls meant bucking hay bales, helping out with branding, raising calves for the county fair, and riding horses.

Kathleen and Susie belonged to the Silver Spur riding club, which performed drills in the Deltarado Days parade. The younger girls, Marilyn, Jeanie and Jonni, often rode their horses to town so they could participate in the parade, as well. Many years they rode alongside their dad, who drove his M Bar X feed truck in the parade.

"Richard worked hard and he played hard," said Virginia. On the weekends, he competed in team roping events and the entire family went along to watch. One of their favorite destinations was Durango. All five girls ultimately attended Fort Lewis College.

In 1987, the Sheas sold the feedlot, much of their land, and moved onto a 40-acre parcel where they continued to enjoy country living. Richard still had a few cows when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1995, shortly after the Sheas celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Family is a high priority for Virginia, and she is fortunate to have several of her children, eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren living not only in Delta County, but on adjoining parcels.

"Living out in the country is so nice -- you can look out any window and have a good view. I've never seen any other place I'd like to live."

She has many wonderful friends in town, and even though Virginia isn't sure why she was named parade grand marshal, those closest to her certainly agree she is deserving of the honor.

John Sidebottom (Virginia Shea’s father) bent piano wire to invent a handheld onion weeder that’s still in use today. Virginia says he made hundreds, if not thousands, of the device.
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