Bobby Cornford of La Grande is a delightful paradox.

Cornford is an antique car enthusiast but is most passionate about the future of the young people of Union County.

She has devoted countless hours over the past four decades to helping youth in Union County 4-H programs. Cornford’s work, often conducted behind the scenes, has pushed her into the spotlight. The La Grande resident, in recognition of her community service, was chosen to serve as grand marshal of this evening’s Union County Fair Parade.

“What she has given back to 4-H over the past 40 years is priceless,” said Lori Ritter, secretary of the La Grande chapter of Delta Epsilon Sorority, which selected Cornford as the fair parade’s grand marshal.

Tonight’s parade, which Delta Epsilon is in charge of, begins at 6 p.m. on the 1500 block of Adams Avenue near Globe Furniture. Lineup for the parade begins at 4 p.m. at the corner of Hemlock Street and Washington Avenue. The parade will run west on Adams Avenue to Max Square.

This year’s parade is expected to have some antique cars, which is fitting because of Cornford’s long fascination with vintage automobiles.

“I have always been interested in them,” Cornford said.

She is a member of the local Rusty Wheels Car Club and has served as its president a total of three years. Cornford has one antique automobile, a 1946 Ford.

Cornford did not foresee herself ever being named the fair parade’s grand marshal until Delta Epsilon representatives came to her house about a month ago to give her the news. She said that even when the representatives arrived she did not anticipate the news they had.

“I had absolutely no idea,” Cornford said.

The community service work Cornford has done includes about three decades of serving as the cook for the annual 4-H camp in Union County. Cornford was unable to work at the camp this summer but plans to be back next year.

“I have to be there for the kids,” Cornford said.

The Lil’ Rascals 4-H Club is also a big part of Cornford’s community service legacy. She and her late husband, Bob, founded the club more than two decades ago. Members of the club, which is still going strong today, are taught how to raise and care for large livestock including steers, sheep and pigs.

Cornford was also instrumental in getting cabins at the Union County 4-H Center, 10 miles north of Island City. The center now has 12 cabins but had none when the Cornfords moved to Union County in 1973.

“It had tents (set up during camps), which the National Guard provided,” she said.

Cornford and her husband founded a number of major 4-H fundraisers, including the annual 4-H and FFA Auction at the Union County Fair. The auction, which has been conducted for at least three decades, was first named the Blue Ribbon Auction. It initially had 25 hogs, 25 sheep and 10 steers but today is far bigger in terms of livestock sold.

“I’m surprised how much it has grown,” Cornford said.

They also helped start the annual 4-H Radio Auction. Donated items are sold during the fundraiser based on bids phoned in to a local radio station. Today all bids are recorded via computers but that was not the case when the auction started about three decades ago.

“We used a chalkboard,” Cornford said.

The Cornfords moved to Union County in 1973 from Burbank, California. They came here after Bob Cornford discovered it during a fishing trip.

“He told me (after returning to Burbank) that we had to move here,” Bobby Cornford said.

Upon arriving in 1973, Cornford quickly embraced the region’s beauty and open spaces. She said that except for good friends she left behind, she much prefers life here as opposed to the crowded and hectic urban lifestyle in Burbank.

The couple raised three sons and a daughter. Today two sons, Emmitt and Devin, and daughter, Sherry, live in Union County. Emmitt is the interim chief of the La Grande Fire Department, and Devin is a LGFD firefighter. Sherry works for the Oregon State University Extension Service. Their third son, Walter, is retired and lives in Idaho.

All four were involved in 4-H while growing up. Today their mother remains a role model for adult involvement in the youth program.

“I can’t think of a better representative of 4-H than Bobby Cornford,” Ritter said.