Inducted in 2006
It is telling that John Ludtka was genuinely surprised to learn of his selection for 2006 induction into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame (ERHOF). Ludtka— former Daily Record editor and publisher and author of The Tradition Lives On: A 75-Year History of the Ellensburg Rodeo (1997)—personally reported on the Ellensburg Rodeo for more than one-third of its history. Ludtka’s modesty evinces a genuine Western candor and belief in the community volunteerism that has built and strengthened the rodeo he knows so well.
“John Ludtka has given so much to this community and the Ellensburg Rodeo,” stated ERHOF President Teri Phillip. “John’s induction into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame is a very good way to preserve the long history of his work and dedication.”
John Ludtka was born in Huron, South Dakota in 1930. His father was a newspaperman. John attended South Dakota State University, earning his BS and MS degrees in Journalism. A stint as a platoon leader in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division (West Germany) preceded a long and successful career as a journalism professor and newspaperman.
Although John was raised in the ranch and cattle country of the Dakotas, he first grew seriously interested in the sport of rodeo in New Mexico. As a young journalism professor at Eastern New Mexico State College (now Eastern New Mexico University), home to one of the oldest college rodeos in North America, John came to share his students’ enthusiasm for rodeo. He jokingly remembers having “barely resisted” their “efforts to get me to ride a bull.” And, though they decked him out in cowboy duds for their annual rodeo, John’s students “good-naturedly” concluded he “looked more like a ‘sheep herder’ than a ‘Marlboro Man’”!
John, with wife Janice and children Mark, Cathy, Karol, and Lynn, moved to Ellensburg in 1963 and he took a post as Central Washington State College (now CWU) Professor of Journalism and public information officer. John and
Janice purchased the Record Printing Company in 1968. John became editor (and, later, publisher) of Jim and Joy McGiffin’s Ellensburg Daily Record until the paper was sold in 1993.
During their three decades in Ellensburg, the Ludtkas figured importantly in the community’s economic, cultural, and institutional growth, with active involvement in the Kittitas County Fair, 4-H, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, Swim Team, Western Art Association, Community Hospital Foundation, CWU (including the Chimpanzee Center), the Clymer Museum of Art, and myriad volunteer endeavors.
John Ludtka’s involvement with the Ellensburg Rodeo has been continuous and has ranged from writing and publishing the official rodeo souvenir program to helping his Swim Team children serve as rodeo ushers and sweep up the grandstands after night show and daily performances. He reported from the press box after each performance.
Ludtka published the all-important “day sheets” listing the competitors and stock in each rodeo performance. He remembers this painstaking and time-consuming job “became a bit easier in later years when the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) sent out the draw and electronic printing took the place of the hot type used for many years. And it made it much faster for Record print foreman Frank Oechsner when offset printing replaced the letterpress operations….” With the old technology, Ludtka remembers, printing day sheets took until “well after midnight each night” of the rodeo weekend.
“John Ludtka is the historian of the Ellensburg Rodeo,” notes ERHOF founder and University of Washington, Tacoma, History Professor Mike Allen. “Frankly, many communities have failed to retain accurate data and the firsthand accounts of their early rodeos,“ Allen states. “Despite the best of intentions, their history is lost simply because no one has taken the time and care to preserve it. The Tradition Lives On, John’s official 75-year anniversary history of the Ellensburg Rodeo, has recorded for posterity the story of our rodeo and its legacy to our community and the world of North American rodeo.”
Ludtka was a founding ERHOF Board member. “It was exciting,” he states, “to have the opportunity to help put the spotlight on great rodeo participants and supporters.”
John and Janice divide their time between Leavenworth and Las Cruces, New Mexico and remained interested and active in Ellensburg affairs and visit often.
In recognition of three decades of work for the Ellensburg Rodeo, the Ludtka Family was designated Kittitas County Honor Family by Top Hands. John was the first recipient of the Rodeo Board’s prestigious “Maynard Linder Spirit of the Rodeo” award for rodeo volunteers. And upon retirement from the Daily Record, the Rodeo Board and Chamber awarded him an “Honorary Rodeo Champion” buckle.
Despite his “Rodeo Champion” buckle, John Ludtka jokes that his Eastern New Mexico State College students were probably correct when they said he was “more sheep-herder” than “Marlboro Man.” Yet in his modesty and reluctance to take the limelight, John Ludtka evinces one of the strongest tenets of the “Cowboy Code” of behavior.
Reflecting on his induction into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame, Ludtka stated simply: “All our family activities with the Rodeo, the Fair and other community endeavors were in keeping with the traditions that so many others have kept alive here and continue to improve on. We were just trying to do our part.”