Stewardship Profile Series
The passion and love for the land shown by private landowners of this region, and especially by our members, is why the Alliance was formed and continues to thrive. Without the dedication to stewardship of people like those highlighted below, this land, and our communities, would be a poorer place. With them, this region is more spectacular than through scenery alone. We hope you enjoy reading these inspiring stories and that you consider joining us in our mission to practice and promote responsible land stewardship.
“It was the way I was made, it’s always been there and it will die when I die,” says Betty Shahan of how she developed her love of the land. Betty grew up in Archuleta County, the daughter of a saw miller. Her mother’s side of the family raised cattle and as early as she can remember, she has felt a connection with animals. As a child, she always ran, and never walked, which would explain her desire to be involved with anything outdoors. As she got older, she fixed hair and gave permanents in the sawmill tents, so she always thought she would eventually become a beautician. After 8th grade, the small country school she attended was closed, so her mother sent her to Pagosa High School, despite her disinterest in attending a much larger school. It was there she met her to-be husband, Bob Shahan. They dated through high school and were married as soon as they could on June 2nd, immediately after graduating. Bob told Betty they were going to be ranchers and that she would have no need for attending beauty school. It was an exciting time for Betty. She explains, “When we started off, we did everything on the ranch.” Betty recalls that Bob really helped his parents figure out how to make the ranch profitable by changing their yearling operation to running cow-calf pairs. They started off by buying the least expensive (which also meant the least desirable and most ornery) cows. “We had a rodeo,” laughs Betty. Because Betty had taken part in every aspect of ranch management, when Bob passed away of cancer in 1983, she knew exactly what to do. “So I just did it.” People often have asked Betty, “Aren’t you scared?” To that Betty always replies, “Because I started from the bottom, I have nothing to be afraid of.” One of Betty’s most recent accomplishments has been to put a conservation easement on her ranch. It has been heartbreaking for her to see development of the rural landscape; it is what inspired her to ensure that her land would remain as it is now for future generations. She had a neighbor who showed her the ropes, and was her “rock” throughout the entire process. Knowing how helpful he was to her, Betty says that she is always talking to people about stewardship of the land. “I hope they’ll go away learning something that is helpful and that they’ll be brave enough to go forward.”
richard "doc" Gooding
Like it was yesterday, Doc vividly remembers the summers he spent at his granddad and grandmother’s farm back in Indiana. That was almost 80 years ago. “There was no electricity, no running water, and my grandmother cooked on an iron stove with corncobs, except for on special occasions when she would get to cook with coal,” Doc explains. At 6 years old, his first job was to run a pony and cart with jugs of drinking water out to the workers in the fields. Back then, fields were plowed and hay was cut, but they didn’t have any mechanized farm equipment like one sees today. Plowing and hay cutting machinery was all horse driven. “We stored the cow’s milk in large cans and used a storeroom near the spring to refrigerate it until Robert’s Dairy would come pick it up.” In those days, a “Huckster” would come door to door in an early Model T truck and he would trade his grandmother flour and sugar for her chickens’ eggs. Doc never recalls her going into town because she made everything she needed, including her own churned butter. “She pumped her own water by hand from a well and used to wash me in a tub on the back porch. She was truly a wonderful lady.” Doc’s father had custom shirt businesses and by the time he was in high school, he spent less time on the farm and more time helping out his dad. “I started out at his office at 16 as mail boy, and then worked as draftsmen. By the time I was 19, I went on the road to do custom shirt service sales. I loved driving all over and was able to make money doing it!”
Then the Korean War started. Doc recalls that they were grabbing young men right and left to go to war. “I was a sophomore in college, an economics major. But I was also taking mathematics and chemistry courses and enjoyed them too.” One day the dean called Doc in to his office; he thought he was in trouble. Instead, the dean explained that the government was offering deferment exams and thought Doc should consider going into medicine. “Because we didn’t have any doctors in the family, I decided to try working at the hospital one summer to see if I liked it. Well, I loved it – I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was so busy and it was so exciting. I remember they brought in a woman in an iron lung, a man who had been stabbed, and I even helped deliver 30 or so babies!” The rest was history.
Doc hitchhiked with a friend to Indiana University for an interview to enter medical school. “The lad I was with was dating a gal at nearby DePaul University, so he and I got a 6-pack of beer, walked over to their sorority house, and met her and her friend, Sue.” In those days, they couldn’t get in too much trouble because the young ladies’ curfew was 10 p.m. Doc and Sue hit it off and started dating. “I was always put off to a Friday or Sunday night and when you’re hitchhiking 20 miles to go on a date, that timeframe gets pretty tight.” So Doc asked Sue, “What does it take to get a date with you on a Saturday night?” “You have to call me early in the week,” she explained. So that’s just what he did. They discovered they had a lot in common. Sue was also raised on her grandparents’ farm. When she was a little girl, her parents were tragically killed in an automobile accident. Her brother lived with the grandparents, and she lived with her aunt and uncle, but spent the majority of time with her brother helping her grandparents raise hogs. Sixty-three years of marriage later, Sue and Doc have three children, four grandchildren, and several lifetimes’ worth of adventures under their belts.
After Doc graduated from medical school, he completed an internship in plastic surgery at Indiana University. Doc distinctly remembers the day when Uncle Sam called because he was up for his deferment. “I was stationed for two years as a general medical officer at the US Army Hospital at Sandia Base in Albuquerque. I quickly became hooked on New Mexico; my parents thought I had lost my mind.” After two years of service, he had opportunity to return Indiana University for training and a residency in plastic surgery. “I fell in love with the work – I did a lot of kids with birth defects including cleft lips and deformed ears.” As soon as he finished his residency, there was an opportunity in at University of New Mexico to develop a plastic surgery program at their new medical school. “It was a perfect fit for me because I like both academia and private practice. I had clinics all over the state and folks would come to Albuquerque for their surgery.”
Despite having a busy new practice, and a growing family, Sue and Doc missed farming. There’s an old saying that applies to us, “You get that dirt under your nails, and you never get it out.” So, they started out with a ranch in Arizona, then one in eastern New Mexico and later the one in Chromo, CO. “Early on I met Alan Savory and we used the Savory Grazing Method. Our neighbors thought we were goofy and our accountant thought we were crazy, but the cattle buyer would come from the West Coast and he noticed that our steers would put on twice the weight of our neighbors’! We knew we were doing something right.”
“Our ranch in Chromo is a very special place. It’s part of the old Tierra Amarilla Land Grant. When it was first up for sale by its then owner Consuelo Gonzales, I went to go see it, but decided we couldn’t afford it at the time.” Nonetheless, Consuelo and Doc became good friends. Despite having made promises to the contrary, the Texans who ended up purchasing the ranch began to sub-divide it. Consuelo called Doc. They had already sold off the west side of the road, but the east side was still available. So Doc bought the east side, which was about 6,000 acres. “That was enough to keep me busy.” A number of years back, Doc and Sue actually sold the ranch to a good local long-time family. For several years, they looked across Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico for another comparable ranch, with no luck! When a portion of the Chromo ranch came up for sale again, there was no question that it was what they wanted.
Now they no longer raise cattle in Chromo, but they actively manage the land, which is held in a conservation easement with Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Sue and Doc are engaged in programs with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, New Mexico Game and Fish, consult with Gary Harris on forest management, are part of the aspen regeneration program, spray noxious weeds, mow pastures, and maintain ponds for the wildlife. When Chama Peak Land Alliance was getting up and running, Gary Harris called me, “We’re meeting with a bunch of the landowners. You should come down.” Doc laughs, “I was 10 minutes late for the meeting so they made me Chair of the Board and I have just loved it. It was hard work but exciting to see. I am especially proud that we hired Monique DiGiorgio as the Director and now even have Emily as staff.”
“Sue and I are so fortunate; we share a love of the land and the ranch. I am now 85 and Sue is 83 and we are both very healthy. We are so grateful for every day and that we get to be a part of this special place. It’s part of God’s country. One time, I hiked to the top of Chromo Peak and there were literally millions of ladybugs at the top. It was the first time I learned that they actually migrate. Another time, I had a dream about Sue’s brother, who was like my own brother and died early on from a brain tumor. He and I had died. Our heaven was the same beautiful mountain country like in Chromo…with Indiana cornfields in the valley.”