Ed and Pam Bliss of Crawford will serve as grand marshals of the 2015 Delta County Fair.
The Blisses are retired, but continue to support the community through volunteerism -- a commitment they made almost 40 years ago.
"We were really surprised," said Ed. "I'm still surprised."
In considering some of the past recipients, who have lived here "forever," like last year's grand marshals, the multi-generational Campbell family, it didn't occur to them that they would be selected, said Ed. "To be in that tradition is quite an honor."
But the Blisses, who moved to the North Fork area almost 40 years ago, are well known for their commitment to the community and beyond.
"They are very community-minded and spirited people who do a lot for Delta County, and beyond Delta County," said fair board member and parade organizer, Sheila Maki.
This Saturday morning they will ride in the parade in Hotchkiss in a wagonette driven by Gail Folk of Somerset and pulled by Folk's horse, Reed's Fancy Queen. The wagonette is owned by Dick and Sandy Boushley of Hotchkiss and built by Art Chaffee of Delta, who 30 years ago helped start the Grand Mesa Harness Club.
The Blisses learned of the honor by a phone call from long-time board member Teresa Burns. "Once we got over the initial shock," said Ed, "it felt really good."
"You love the community, you serve the community, you care about the community," said Pam. "It's good to be recognized."
Commitment is a word they don't take lightly. Both came to Colorado from points east and met in Crested Butte the drought winter of 1976-77. Two days later they were married. "Here we sit, 37 years later, committed," said Pam.
That it was a drought year was key to coming to Delta County, said Ed. With no snow and no jobs in Crested Butte, they packed up and headed for the North Fork Valley. They were "dirt poor," and eventually moved to Crawford for the cheap rent more than 30 years ago.
Pam was hired almost immediately as receptionist for the Hotchkiss Herald newspaper, and soon was made the editor of the Paonian. A year later, and five months after the birth of first son Dugan, Ed and Pam started the High Country Shopper, which they owned for 28 years. They had another son, Tyler. Both are now attorneys.
In the 90s they served on the Delta County Fair Board while the boys showed pigs in 4-H. During their tenure the fair brought some big names in country music, including Diamond Rio, Brooks & Dunn, Confederate Railroad and Riders in the Sky. They credit Teresa Burns for booking them just as they were busting onto the country music scene.
A grant writer, Pam has helped numerous organizations obtain funding. She is a founding member of the Delta County Tourism Council and Delta Area Development, Inc. She has served on the Cocker Kids Foundation since its inception, is on the board of the Kids' Pasta Project, is a member of the Rotary Club of the North Fork Valley and the North Fork Children's Party committee, and a First State Bank of Colorado board member.
She helped form the Delta County Meth Task Force, which is now Drug-Free Delta County, and currently serves as its volunteer coordinator. DFDC has its rewards, but deals with very serious issues, said Pam. The organization has changed many lives. "It's a big deal."
In 2014 she was selected as the first recipient of the Making Democracy Work award by the Montrose League of Women Voters.
Ed Bliss is in the construction business and has worked on projects throughout the state, including the 12-mile stretch of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon. He started High Country Printing and Graphics in 1986, and sold it to its current owners in 1991.
He has served on the Cathedral Water Company board for 24 years, and was on the Delta-Montrose Electric Association's citizens' advisory board in the late 1980s.
In 1987 their life course was altered when Pam's father took them to Jamaica. They returned to Jamaica in 1989 and have gone every year since. In 2006, after years of working with orphanages, they founded Jamaica Outreach, Inc. The orphanages they worked with eventually closed, but they kept in contact with some of the children, raising money for them to earn college degrees. Jamaica is a very poor country, they said. The area where they volunteer has an 80 percent illiteracy rate.
In 2009 they further solidified their commitment to the people of Jamaica by building a home there. They have volunteered with rural medical and dental clinics, and operate a breakfast program, which includes a garden component, made possible by an international Rotary grant.
Ed, who also serves on the Delta County Libraries board, recently joined a library board in their Jamaican community and is working to create a relationship between the two boards.
Over the years they have taken many area residents, including students from Delta County schools and ASTRA members, with them as volunteers. They ask travelers to carry extra suitcases full of books, clothing and school supplies.
"It's been a great experience," said Pam. Not only do the Jamaicans benefit, but volunteers of all ages tell them that the experience is life-altering and eye-opening.
The couple care for four cow elk they kept as pets after operating an elk ranch from 1998-2012. They love having the freedom to help others. Said Pam, "We don't do anything we don't want to do."
The clock is ticking. The Delta Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) has 120 days to reach agreement with the taxing entities it's asking to help fund a gateway project near the intersection of Highways 50 and 92. Half that time has elapsed, and there is no Plan B, city manager David Torgler emphasized during a meeting with taxing entities Monday.