2019 Laurel Ridge Distinguished Alumni Award winner Shannon Moeck has brought hidden history to life in her job as an interpretative park ranger at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park.
Her job is to interpret Shenandoah Valley history, with particular emphasis on the Civil War. She has homed in on the stories of the region’s enslaved population.
She has been interpreting the life of Judah, an enslaved cook at Belle Grove Plantation.
A New Jersey native, Moeck moved to the Shenandoah Valley with her family at age 14, graduating from Sherando High School in 1994. She attended art school, but left before completing her degree, and spent some time in the music-promotion industry.
In 2004, Moeck returned to the area to help her mother, who was battling cancer. A divorce served as the catalyst for Moeck returning to college with the encouragement of friends and family. She worked full-time while attending Laurel Ridge, earning her degree in five years.
She graduated summa cum laude in 2013 with an associate degree in liberal arts, with a concentration in communication, as well as a general education certificate. While at Laurel Ridge, Moeck was a member of the national honor society, Phi Theta Kappa.
Moeck describes former history Professor Jonathan Noyalas (now director of the McCormick Civil War Institute at Shenandoah University) as a key figure in her higher-education journey and the professor responsible for rekindling her love of history.
It was through Noyalas that Moeck ended up working for the National Park Service. While working on a historic research study for the newly-created national park, Noyalas introduced her to supervisory park ranger Eric Campbell, who would hire her first as a seasonal employee at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park in 2010, and later as a full-time park ranger/interpreter.
For his part, Noyalas describes Moeck as one of the “handful of truly exceptional students” he has taught in his 16 years in higher education.
“From the first moment she walked into my classroom to take a world history course, I saw something special in her – a genuine passion for education so that she could not only improve herself, but apply what she learned to make the world a better place,” Noyalas says. “Every challenge I threw Shannon’s way she accepted and met without hesitation.”
Moeck’s other favorite professors include Andrea Ludwick, Curtis Morgan, Patricia Bowers and the late Evan Humbert. Moeck credits her time at Laurel Ridge and later with the National Park Service with rebuilding her confidence.
“I value not only the professor-student relationships we had, but also the friendships,” Moeck says. “I was able, through my time at Lord Fairfax and getting my job at the National Park Service, to rebuild my self-worth and self-identity.”
She is responsible for helping to make the park what it is today.
“This was a park in development,” Moeck notes. “We were building the interpretation from the ground up. My main focus has become the enslavement story of the area, which really had been neglected.”
In addition to telling the story of Judah, who was brought to the Belle Grove Plantation in 1817, Moeck has been instrumental in bring the Slave Dwelling Project to Belle Grove.
There, people – including Laurel Ridge students and staff – slept on the floor of the lower level of the plantation, just as some of the more than 275 slaves who lived at the site over the years may have slept.
“The plan is to make this an annual event,” Moeck says.
Belle Grove Plantation Executive Director Kristen Laise has been impressed with Moeck’s interpretive and collaborative skills.
“She’s an excellent presenter and public speaker,” Laise says. “She’s a really positive person, very energetic, always willing to try new things.”
In 2017, Moeck completed the NPS’s GOAL (Generating Organizational Advancement and Leadership) Academy, and hopes to use her experience and education to empower park service employees.
Moeck is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in leadership and organizational management at Eastern Mennonite University, graduating next December. She has noticed many of her peers have degrees in history, but not in what she is studying.
“I’m hoping that what I gain through this education can help me become the agent of change I would like to see within the park service,” she says.
Tasked with getting the park up and running, Campbell turned to Noyalas to see if he recommended any students to come onboard the park.
“He suggested Shannon,” Campbell says. “She became a permanent employee, and has become an incredible asset. The best decision I have ever made was to hire her. Her outreach to the community is just wonderful.”
Moeck is actively engaged in her community, serving on the Winchester-Frederick County Tourism Board, the Clermont Farm Board and the McCormick Civil War Institute Board, and as an active member of Coming to the Table and the NAACP Warren-Page Branch.
“I feel that community engagement in this capacity is the best way to bring the park to the public,” Moeck explains.
Moeck was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award during the Laurel Ridge Educational Foundation’s annual appreciation luncheon on April 19.
The award is given to alumni who have contributed outstanding service to their community, attained high achievement in their career, are positive role models for Laurel Ridge students and demonstrate Laurel Ridge’s ideas of learning, integrity and positive spirit.