As long as the City of Sedalia has hosted the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Lauretta Emerson has been there to volunteer. Having spent more than 50 years of her life in Sedalia, Emerson said she remembers concerts at the old Smith-Cotton High School on Broadway Boulevard, which now houses the junior high, and parades that started at the Liberty Theater on West Fifth Street and traveled all the way to Maple Leaf Park on West Main Street.
Emerson said her fondest memories of volunteering for the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival are meeting new people outside of the community.
“I vividly remember (Robert ‘Ragtime Bob’) Darch who has a stone at Crown Hill Cemetery,” she said. “He had a Southern funeral, like a march where we marched from the part of the cemetery to where he was buried, like they do in New Orleans and some other places. It was exciting. It’s like you have a band and you march and it’s like a hallelujah thing you go to. He was with the festival for many years.”
Emerson said she probably hasn’t often missed the festival, which is celebrating its 41st anniversary this week.
“I watched them when they painted the mural downtown of Scott Joplin,” Emerson said. “I have met a lot of people. I have a long history in Sedalia. I don’t think there’s probably anybody that came out of town and you’d say, ‘Do you know Lauretta Emerson?’ and they couldn’t come up with something.”
Emerson said she isn’t famous, but she’s been locally involved in so much over the years. She even received recognition for integration efforts in the 1950s in “Life in Pettis County, 1815-1973,” by Hazel Lang, a historian.
“I’ve delivered babies all over town,” Emerson said. “Even today I’d meet somebody and they will say, ‘Do you remember that you delivered me so many, many years ago?’ In fact, somebody just mentioned, ‘Did you know that you delivered my son 50 years ago?’ And that was at Sacred Heart Church. I just cried.”
Emerson said she keeps her nurse’s license active.
“In fact, the state of Missouri presented me with a 50-years nursing certificate,” she said. “I did 31 years out of Whiteman (Air Force Base) in Silver Service before I retired there, but I’ll never truly retire because I think there are so many things that you can do, and you might not do it at the same pace, but it’s available. And I think if more people would get involved, it would be a better world.”
Emerson isn’t blowing smoke, either. She was on the Sedalia City Council for 13 years and still attends council meetings on occasion. She’s on the Police Personnel Board in Sedalia. She also taught AIDS awareness and prevention for the Red Cross.
“There haven’t been too many boards that I haven’t served on in Sedalia,” she said.
Emerson was born in east Texas and went to college in Jackson, Mississippi, and Tuskegee, Alabama, where she studied psychiatric affiliation. She and her late husband, Melvin Pete Emerson, had five children.
Emerson also attained a funeral director’s license and works on call for Alexander-May Funeral Home, now called H.T. May & Son Funeral Home, in Boonville. Whenever she isn’t volunteering, she said she meets her two sisters, who live in Cleveland, Ohio, and Atlanta, respectively.
“I just met them and we had a week that we went and ate and gambled and enjoyed life,” she said. “We meet every year and make sure we have a good time together. I’ve had a good life. I would do it again.”
Going on 87 in July, Emerson said she will volunteer as long as she can.
“I think without volunteers, there’s nothing, and whatever I can do to contribute to Sedalia, I certainly will,” she said. “(That’s what) I’m here for. I will never be a part of a community if I can’t do something for it.”