SEDALIA, — Lots of children — some now adults — have met Connie Koch as she gave educational programs over the years. Many don't remember her name, but they remember who she is — the "Snake Lady."
"That's great, because I made an impression on some people and chances are I taught them something about reptiles and their worth in our world," she said.
Koch, of Sedalia, started giving her educational presentations as a naturalist for Powell Gardens.
"There were about 60 programs that I did, but this was the favorite," she said.
It was there that she got her first snake, Mad Max the Wonder Snake. Snakes are a passion she's shared with others for more than 25 years.
Now she gives the programs as a volunteer, with the help of her reptile friends. There's the tiny green snake George, Spirit the red milk snake, her big ball python J.J. Buddy, and more.
She presents to school groups and gave a presentation at the Sedalia Public Library last week.
"I always stress that children not pick up or touch snakes," she said.
She cares for the snakes in habitats she built herself that take up nearly an entire room of her home. Each snake has its own area, with a box to hide under, fresh water and a hot rock. She feeds them between 50 and 60 mice per month.
She likes to care for them, but understands they are still wild creatures.
"I don't want anyone to think of them as pets," she said. Some she's been given, some she caught herself. She found Julius Squeezer, a prairie king snake, wound around her back fence.
"Some snakes are just naturally docile," she said.
Still, all of her snakes are used to her and like giving presentations.
"I will not keep a snake that's so aggressive I cannot take it to school," she said.
She said she respects the snakes, and she thinks they understand that.
"They're smarter than people give them credit for," she said. "If we respect them, they will respect us."
They are used to being handled. They even know when to expect their dinner — 10 o'clock on Saturday mornings.
"Within an hour or two of 10 o'clock, if I'm not there, they will circle their cages," she said.
She also tries to emphasize that keeping snakes is a long-term commitment.
"When you take on snakes, you take on a responsibility," she said, as snakes can live for 30 years or more.
She has one, Spot, a speckled king snake, that is 30 now.
"I hope to do this the rest of my life, because I've been doing this for 25 years now. It's just a part of who I am," she said.