Inducted in 2002
1860s pioneer emigrants to Washington Territory, Ellensburg’s Fitterer family has played a pivotal role in the history of the Ellensburg Rodeo. The Fitterers have marched at the forefront of the rodeo’s volunteers, royalty, and participants from its 1923 inception until this very day.
The saga of this family began in 1867, when Phillip George Fitterer was born to German-Anglo Catholic immigrants Theodore and Marianna Walters Fitterer. Theodore, a Mankato, Minnesota, homesteader, was a veteran of the Sioux Indian wars. After a childhood on the northern Great Plains, Phillip bought passage on the Northern Pacific Railroad to Yakima, in Washington Territory, to make a start in the hotel business; his brother Frank soon followed.
In 1891, Phillip married married Emma Daverin (1869-1960). Like Phillip, Emma came from sturdy pioneer stock, the child of Martin and Bridgit Downes Daverin, Oregon Trail trekkers who crossed central Washington Territory in an oxen-drawn covered wagon. Emma Daverin and her twin brother John were born near the Walter Bull ranch (in the southwestern Kittitas Valley) in 1869, placing them among the first white children ever born in the Kittitas Valley. In 1892, Phillip and Emma moved permanently to Ellensburg, where the two Fitterer Brothers managed the Horton House (later, Antlers) Hotel. The great Ellensburg fire had recently destroyed much of the downtown, making opportunities for hard-working entrepreneurs like Phil and Frank Fitterer. In 1896, the two used their connections with hotel furniture brokers to build an inventory and transition into the retail furniture business. Phillip and Frank Fitterer launched Fitterer Brothers Furniture Store, an Ellensburg family business that has flourished to this day.
It was Phillip and Emma Daverin Fitterer’s first child—Clarence Fitterer (1894-1984)—who would begin the Fitterer family’s historic involvement in the Ellensburg Rodeo. As young men, Clarence and his brother Louis (1895-1965) worked at the family furniture business, including the care and handling of dozens of delivery draft horses, their tack, and the wagons they pulled to deliver Fitterer Brothers furniture to widespread customers. When, in 1923, Kittitas County fair enthusiasts, local ranch cowboys, and Indians began to plan for an Ellensburg Rodeo, Clarence Fitterer helped to provide business and marketing expertise—not to mention horsemanship skills he learned as a teamster—to oil the wheels of the challenging rodeo endeavor. Fitterer joined fellow townsman and newspaper editor Cliff Kaynor (ERHOF 1998), County Extension agent Leonard Davis (ERHOF 1997), and many others to comprise the town and business connection so vital in the birth and growth of the Ellensburg Rodeo. Clarence Fitterer was one of three founding members of the Ellensburg Rodeo Board, and he served until 1929. In 1945, Clarence was elected Ellensburg Rodeo Posse Captain.
Carrying on the family’s business and rodeo traditions were Clarence Fitterer’s sons George (1918-1976) and Joe (1919-) and daughter Phyllis (1928-1993). Joe, the oldest living Fitterer rodeo participant, reminisced recently that he and his brother George literally grew up with the Ellensburg Rodeo. He remembers riding his bicycle to the rodeo grounds to watch the Yakama Indians make camp, and he still possesses a rare corn husk bag he received from an Indian woman he helped in setting up her teepee. Joe remembers the clowns and colorful trick riders of the late 1940s, and many other aspects of the Ellensburg Rodeo “after the War” (World War II). “It was more of a hometown show then, with more Kittitas County cowboy competitors, but it was and has always been a first class show,” he remembers. “The cowboys were rough and tough!”
George Fitterer played trombone in the Ellensburg Rodeo Cowboy Band and coordinated the rodeo parades (there were two parades back then) until the mid-1960s; George’s son Brad remembers his dad “was up early Saturday morning and we didn’t see him until he came home exhausted after the rodeo.” Sister Phyllis became the first (but not last) Fitterer Rodeo Queen. Clarence Fitterer’s children would carry the Fitterer rodeo banner well into the twentieth century. Indeed, Joe and George’s and Phyllis’ children and grandchildren—the great- and great-great grandchildren of Phillip and Emma Fitterer—are carrying on those rodeo traditions and responsibilities to this day.
For over sixty years, Fitterer horsemen rode with the Ellensburg Rodeo Posse and Junior Sheriff’s Posse and have worked behind the chutes. Clarence, Joe, and George were all Rodeo Posse members from the early 1940s through the 1950s. As teenagers in the 1960s, Joe’s sons Jon, Geoff, and Karl rode in the Kittitas County Junior Sheriff’s Posse; J.D. and Kathie joined their brothers in 4-H, and Karl worked as a paramedic behind the chutes. Phyllis’ son Dan Fennerty was a contestant in the Wild Cow Milking; Joe, Bettie, Jon, Susan, and Rich Fitterer all belong to Gold Buckle Club.
Jon Fitterer long worked the Posse night shows and helped shape the junior rodeo from 1987-2000. As assistant chute boss from 1988-present, Jon moves rough stock and livestock during the daily rodeos. “It would take four people to replace Jon,” notes Arena Director Joe O’Leary.
The Fitterer Family is the only three-generation Ellensburg Rodeo Board family, with thirty-two years combined service on the rodeo’s Board of Directors. Clarence’s tenure was followed by that of George, who served in 1941 and (after World War II service) from 1949-51. Brad has served from 1984 to present—he is the one Fitterer family Rodeo President (‘95-‘96) and longest serving of the Fitterer family Rodeo Board members. Thus, a Fitterer family Board Director—Clarence, George, or Brad— has helped to orchestrate 40% of all Ellensburg Rodeos held to date.
During his eighteen-years of service, Brad Fitterer has worked alongside fellow Ellensburg Rodeo Board members to substantially increase the prestige and revenue generated by the Ellensburg Rodeo—to triple the Rodeo’s purse, quadruple revenue, and increase attendance by 30%. Brad has been especially involved in the creation of the “Behind the Chutes” dancing and tavern venue, the rescheduled Friday evening performance, the Cattle Baron’s Brunch, The Rail Fence newsletter, and of course the new Ellensburg Rodeo Headquarters in the historic Driver House.
Past Rodeo Royalty includes Queens Phyllis Fitterer (1947) and Kathie Fitterer (1965), and Brad is married to 1972 Rodeo Princess Connie Linder. Indeed, 2002’s Ellensburg Rodeo Queen, was Kelsey Fennerty—daughter of Dan and Vickie Fennerty, grand-daughter of Phyllis Fitterer, and thus a direct descendant of the Fitterer family “Pioneer Rodeo Family” Inductees. Kathie Fitterer Ambrose, recently reflecting on the role of Fitterer family rodeo queens, noted, “Being on the royal court was an unforgettable honor for us. We were representing not only the community but the Fitterer family as well, and it doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Fitterer family involvement in the Ellensburg Rodeo, from 1923 to the present, is reflective of literally tens of thousands of hours of voluntary labor by Fitterer men and women on behalf of their beloved community and the rodeo that has made it famous.