Dick Gordon, 84, Noblesville, is a smiling teenager showing his Grand Champion pair of barrows at the Allen County 4-H Fair in the early 1950s.
Dick Gordon, 84, Noblesville, is a smiling teenager showing his Grand Champion pair of barrows at the Allen County 4-H Fair in the early 1950s.
Public speaking is a Gordon family talent
Dick Gordon was the 1953 Indiana State Fair Public Speaking Champion.
His subject: How to prepare a calf to show at the Fair.
“You had to talk for seven minutes,” he said. “The reason I won, I knew what I was talking about, with passion.”
Gordon, who grew up on a farm in Churubusco in northern Indiana, was a 10-year Allen County 4-H’er who prided himself on showing cattle and hogs and being a good communicator.
He went on to make a career out of talking and taught two of his own children -- Sylvia Gordon and Rebecca Gordon Ratcliffe -- the value of public speaking.
And most recently, the 84-year-old Noblesville businessman, owner of Gordon Marketing, a family-owned insurance brokerage, watched two of his granddaughters -- Bella Sharples-Gordon and Evelyn Ratcliffe -- win their divisions of the Hamilton County 4-H Fair Public Speaking contest and qualify to move on to this weekend’s Indiana State Fair 4-H Public Speaking contests.
“The reason they won is because they know how to play the stage,” Gordon said. “Most people stand there and give a speech.”
Sylvia Gordon, 53, attests to learning from the master.
When she was 13, her dad made her stand up and give a speech in front of 200 insurance agents.
She cried and fought him not to do it.
But he wouldn’t let her get out of speaking.
“I talked about women’s suffrage … It was a project in school, and he just wanted me to get practice speaking in front of people,” she said.
Sylvia Gordon is glad that her father pushed her out of her comfort zone. She made more speeches. And more speeches.
And somehow, along the way, she became very good at it.
Today, Sylvia Gordon is president of Gordon Marketing, which employs more than 100 people in Noblesville.
The Gordon sisters -- Sylvia Gordon, 53, and Rebecca Gordon, 47, who is vice president of the family business -- are sought-after speakers in their field and are often keynote speakers around the nation.
To insure that the Noblesville family business would continue into the next generation, they both encouraged their 4-H’er children to enroll in the 4-H Public Speaking project and compete in the 4-H Public Speaking contest each year at the county 4-H Fair.
The sisters each have four kids, and seven of the eight have spent years competing in the Public Speaking contests. “Each child has won numerous awards and, all along the way, most of the kids hated it and fought their parents not to participate,” Sylvia Gordon said.
Now, it’s funny how history repeats itself, she said.
Sylvia Gordon’s youngest daughter, Bella Sharples-Gordon, 16, took top honors, as Hamilton County Grand Champion in the Public Speaking contest at the 4-H Fair and will compete at 10 a.m. Saturday for the title that her Grandpa Dick Gordon took home 66 years ago at the Indiana State Fair. She will compete in the Senior Division at the 4-H Exhibit Hall at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The winner earns a free three-day trip to Washington, D.C. “So, that’s a big goal,” said Sylvia Gordon, noting that her father, in 1953, won the awards trip which was a tour of the capital of the United States with other 4-H champions from around the nation.
Rebecca Gordon Ratcliffe’s youngest daughter, Evelyn Ratcliffe, 14, will compete in the Intermediate Division as she, too, won her division at the county 4-H Fair. She will compete at 10 a.m. Sunday, also in the 4-H Exhibit Hall.
“But this isn’t the first chance for the Gordons to attempt to bring home the top award for Grandpa,” Sylvia Gordon said.
Rebecca Gordon Ratcliffe’s other two daughters, Lydia Ratcliffe, 18, was Beginner Public Speaking Champion in 2009; and Audrey Sylvia Ratcliffe, 14, a twin of Evelyn Ratcliffe, was Beginner Public Speaking Champion in 2017. But beginners don’t move on to state, only senior and intermediate divisions.
Sylvia Gordon’s daughter, Susanna Sharples-Gordon, 21, a junior at Indiana University, almost won the State Fair 4-H Public Speaking contest in 2017. She was Hamilton County Grand Champion at the 4-H Fair. “She would have won state but went 16 seconds over the time limit. The judge told her she was the clear winner, but she had to follow rules,” the mom said. “Crushing loss.”
Sylvia Gordon’s daughter, Margaret Sharples-Gordon, 24, won the beginner category of Illustrated Talk (similar to Public Speaking) at state when she was 10 years old.
Sylvia Gordon’s oldest child, Elliot Sharples-Gordon, 26, gave his mom a lot of pushback every summer about participating in public-speaking contests.
But then, when he graduated and went off to college, he discovered that he often had to speak in front of his classes.
Sylvia Gordon said, “Nothing was more gratifying than to have him call me and tell me he was sorry he fought me about being in the 4-H Public Speaking contests as a child, because he was voted the ‘best speaker’ in his business group at IU.”
Another Gordon-family youngster, Rebecca Gordon Ratcliffe’s son, Charlie Ratcliffe, 16, is the only child in the whole family who has never competed in public speaking.
“Yet,” Sylvia Gordon quickly said. “He’s on my target list.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.