John Henry Shoaf

May 12, 1922January 7, 2021

After a long, full, loving life, John Shoaf, died peacefully on the morning of January 7th, 2021, at the age of 98 in Firestone, Colorado, of COVID-19 pneumonia. Born John Henry Shoaf to Laura Belle and Smith Rose Shoaf in Smithfield, Pennsylvania, on May 12, 1922, he was the middle of five brothers who survived to maturity, three siblings having died in infancy. He was interested in music and all things mechanical from an early age. As young boys, he and his brothers helped their machinist father in the family’s electrical shop next door to their home. In the early 1940’s he and his older brother Kenny joined the Army rather than be drafted, so they could play clarinet in the Army Band. John was stationed in Sitka, Alaska, for part of the war where he spent his time off giving piano lessons to local children. His stint in the Army took him many places, but it was a trip to Boulder, Colorado with the Band in 1944 that gave him the idea of someday returning there. After the War, John attended the University of Pennsylvania on the GI Bill studying electrical engineering. One of his jobs as a college student was working on the world’s first electronic programmable digital computer – the ENIAC -- running from room to room of the sprawling computer replacing vacuum tubes as they continually burned out from the tremendous heat generated by the computer when it was in operation. His first job after getting his electrical engineering degree in 1949 was with the National Bureau of Standards in Washington D.C. where he met his wife to be, “Sweet” Sue Chestnut, a girl from the hills of West Virginia who was working in the National Weather Bureau. Following their marriage in 1950, they moved to Boulder. John had worked out a transfer to the NBS laboratories recently established there and was set to live his dream from his visit to Boulder in the Army Band. John kept up his clarinet playing in the young Boulder Philharmonic. His work at NBS was in the development of the world’s first atomic clock which ticked at the pace of the vibration of the Cesium atom. His family remembers his insistence they celebrate the passing of the Leap Second as solar time and atomic time got back in sync. After more than 20 years at NBS, John joined the National Park Service where planned and installed hundreds of Traveler’s Information Stations throughout the U.S. He once spoke of a visit to a national monument in Texas where he was installing a transmitter near the home of the late President Lyndon Johnson. He met Johnson’s widow Lady Bird Johnson in her home. When she asked him what he did and he replied he worked on radios, she asked him if he could fix her transistor radio for her. John continued to work on the Traveler’s Information Stations as a consultant well into the 1990’s. He and his wife Sue loved to travel and the Park Service gave them the chance to explore the country, as he often took Sue along with him on consulting jobs. They also travelled the world visiting Asia, northern Africa, and Europe. Even when his children were in grade school, vacations were usually devoted to driving trips in the family station wagon first east and then west in alternating summers, staying with friends and relatives all the way to the coast. One memorable trip retraced John’s steps back to Alaska up the Inside Passage where the John Shoaf family joined by his brother and fellow Army Bandsman Kenny and his wife Jean shared a ferry for a several days with a travelling circus. Who could have guessed an Alaskan trip would include riding an elephant as the family became well-acquainted with the circus hands over a week’s passage. John and Sue moved from Boulder to Firestone, Colorado, after a record rainstorm flooded their Boulder house in 2013. It was the second flood the house suffered in the 45 years they spent there. Sue had met a kindred West Virginia spirit, Dora, who lived in Firestone and wanted to spend more time with her and her family. After Sue’s death in 2016, Dora’s family, which lived right across the street, took John in. Dora cared for John in those later years. He stayed active well into his 90’s due to Dora’s care. His mind was always animated and curious and he died watching Animal Planet on television. John is survived by a son, Wayne Shoaf and his wife Melinda Hayes of Los Angeles, a daughter, Alison Gortz and her husband Steve of Louisville, Colorado, two grandchildren, Steph and Michael, Michael’s wife Stephanie, and one great grandchild, Lincoln Gortz, all of southern California. He is also survived by his youngest brother, Tom of Grand Junction, Colorado, and brother-in-law Russell Chestnut and his wife Maria of Annandale, Virginia. In addition to his wife Sue, John is preceded in death by his brothers, Kenny, Jim, and Ralph. There will be no memorial service or public funeral. John will be laid to rest in a private ceremony next to Sue, his wife of 66 years, at Mountain View Cemetery in Boulder at 11:00 am, Monday, January 18th. Friends and family who wish to send flowers should direct them to Crist Mortuary, 3395 Penrose Place, Boulder, Colorado 80301. To view pictures from John’s life see


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John Henry Shoaf

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Al and Leatha Satterlee

January 23, 2021

We have so many wonderful memories of John and Sue as we close yet another page of dearly departed Boulder Colorado friends. We thank God for the joy and friendship we enjoyed during those years. May God bring great comfort to Wayne and Allison and families as their parents receive their eternal reward.