Jo Stanko didn't grow up on a ranch. Her parents never owned cattle. But she always knew she wanted to ranch.
Or at least, Stanko said, she knew as early as age 8 that she wanted to be "a teacher, a rancher, an attorney and a vet."
At age 57, Stanko has met two of those goals. She's a retired teacher. And after marrying Jim Stanko, whose family has ranched in the Yampa Valley since 1907, she has learned a lot about ranching.
In June, Stanko took on even more responsibility in the ranching world when she became president of Colorado CattleWomen Inc. after being elected to the position the year earlier.
Stanko also has served as president of Routt County Cattle-Women, an organization she has been involved with since 1974.
"I believe strongly in the (cattle) industry, and I felt that since I had retired as a schoolteacher, I had the time now to give to the industry," Stanko said.
Colorado CattleWomen is a group that works to educate the public about cattle ranching and beef production, to support the agricultural lifestyle and to be active in communities and government, all of which are especially important now, Stanko said.
"There's a lot going on in the industry, and a lot of misunderstanding about the industry," Stanko said, "because we are a business disguised as a lifestyle."
In this time of change for the industry, Stanko's co-workers say she is well-suited for the position. Lynne Sherrod, executive director of the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust, said Stanko's experience with ranching and teaching would make her yearlong term as president a success.
"Jo has been involved with CattleWomen for years, and she's probably one of the best spokespersons that the beef industry has today. She's articulate, intelligent and educated, and that's an image that we as an industry work hard to portray," Sherrod said.
"I'm just thrilled to see her in this position because she's going to do a great job, not just for the CattleWomen, but the beef industry at large."
Stanko knows her job will end up taking a lot of time. Already, as president-elect for Colorado CattleWomen, she put 7,800 miles on her car -- travel time that doesn't include flights to conventions and other meetings.
One of the issues that Stanko said is on the table is a country-of-origin congressional mandate, which says that by 2004, all food will be labeled with its country of origin. Another important issue is irradiated meat, a product that Stanko said was beneficial because it is safer and also has a longer shelf life.
Teaching others and learning through the process is one of the aspects of her position that Stanko said she loves.
"Being a teacher, I've always loved education, and I'm always learning everywhere I can," Stanko said.
While she is president, Stanko hopes to focus even more on education and outreach.
"The main thing that I'm going to be working on is communication and trying to find a way to get our story out," she said.
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