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RODEO GRANDMAS

Inducted in 2016

AP Story photo sister 8x12 Morrow e

The Rodeo Grandmas of Ellensburg, Washington–Janis Anderson, Judy Golladay, Peggy Minor Hunt, Lorraine Plass, and Chloe Weidenbach–were all Kittitas Valley ranch women when they filmed a series of 1990s television commercials for Washington Mutual Bank of Seattle. The bank was launching a new advertising campaign called “That’s Different” aiming to use regional human interest stories to attract attention. When the idea of an “off-beat” commercial about grandmas and their activities arose, Jim Walker, of the McCann Erickson/Seattle Ad Agency who produced the commercials for Washington Mutual, mentioned it to his friend Arley Harrel, a Seattle attorney who grew up in the Kittitas Valley. Harrel suggested the bank use Kittitas Valley ranch women for the commercial, and his sister Jan assisted the McCann Erickson Advertising Agency when they arrived in Ellensburg in 1993 to interview twenty grandmothers. After much deliberation, and two separate casting calls, they chose Anderson, Golladay, Hunt, and Plass. Weidenbach, Plass’s daughter, who traveled with ladies from the beginning, became a Rodeo Grandma five years later after Golladay’s passing.

At the heart of the filmed Washington Mutual commercial was the fun-loving notion of older women (the four were aged from 52 to 82) riding the range and “Keeping the Northwest safe for truth, justice, and FREE CHECKING”! The bank dubbed the Ellensburg quartet the “Rodeo Grandmas.” Astride their horses and decked out in full western attire, the Rodeo Grandmas defended the traditions of the Old West, keeping “bad bankers” on the run and making sure the “good guys and gals” won the day. The commercial first aired on January 17, 1994, and Northwesterners immediately liked it and talked about it. The commercial caught fire.

In later years, the “Rodeo Grandmas” filmed two follow-up commercials for Washington Mutual. The second was filmed in Kittitas County in Caribou Canyon near the Colockum and the other in Los Angelos, CA. Meanwhile, after the first commercial and with an Associated Press story written by Aviva L. Brant in the Yakima Bureau and a photo by Molly Morrow that went out on the wire on April 17, 1994, the Grandmas’ phones were ringing, and they were invited to make what turned out to be scores of personal appearances. Accompanied by their friend, manager and photographer Molly Morrow, they became celebrities, known for their western lifestyle and skills at riding horses, performing roping tricks, yodeling, storytelling, and working with and roping cattle.

Much of the success of Washington Mutual’s campaign was due to choosing four women who were authentic cowgirls. Janis Capezzoli Anderson was born and grew up in a ranching family in Standish, California. She and sister Joanne helped their parents with ranch chores–working and branding cattle and also herding sheep and doing agricultural work. “My dad didn’t have any sons and so my sister and I became the boys of the family,” Janis told journalist Hanoch McCarty. “My dad called me ‘Toughie’ and he taught me how to ride. Horses have always been in my blood.”

Janis Capezzoli married Jerry Anderson (also a roper and ERHOF inductee) and her daughters Mary Minor and Lori Fishburn attended school here and married local men. Janis has three grandsons, one granddaughter and one great grandson. In years past, Janis and Jerry assisted her daughter and son-in-law Mary and Brent Minor in working their ranch, and her grandchildren include NFR multi-finalist team ropers Brady and Riley Minor. A team roper herself, Anderson has competed and won prize money at roping jackpots, including a second place at Cave Creek, Arizona.  “Rodeo is very dear to me and I have wonderful memories of riding in the Grand Entry with the Rodeo Grandmas,” she recalls. “I rode with a great sense of honor and pride.”

Peggy Minor Hunt came to Ellensburg from the small town of Thoeny, Montana with her family at the age of four, and grew up on her parents’ ranch on Wilson Creek, ranching, riding horses, and roping.  Peggy (previously inducted to ERHOF as a member of the Minor Family) was a 1947 Ellensburg Rodeo Princess.  She married Gerald Hunt, and together they worked rodeos in the US and Canada when they were not ranching. Peggy and Gerald Hunt raised four children: Wayne Hunt, Kenneth Hunt, Sheri Hunt Wippel, and Kristine Hunt Olson, whose children made Peg a “Rodeo Grandma.”

When she was a young woman, Peg bought a trick riding saddle from famed trick roper Monte Montana (also an ERHOF inductee), and with her horse, Pepper, was in business as a professional trick rider and roper. Peg Hunt’s trick riding included the Hippodrome Stand and the dangerous Cossack Drag (also called the “Death Drag”) which involves hooking one’s right foot in the stirrup and laying out over the left side of the horse with one’s head almost to the ground.  To trick riding, she also added trick roping and would perform the “flat loop, Wedding Ring, Texas Skip and jump through” which involved standing on a horse, twirling a rope, and jumping through the loop. There is a picture in the Ellensburg Public Library’s archives showing her spinning four loops at once: one with each arm, one from her raised right foot, and one from her teeth. It was Peg’s ranch and rodeo background and her rope skills that lassoed her position as a Rodeo Grandma in 1993.

“The sky is my ceiling and the ground is my carpet,” cowgirl Judy Golladay once reflected. She was born Judy Hastings in Everett, Wa and grew up on her grandparents’ western Washington farm. Judy first learned to ride as a child on a borrowed donkey, and she bought her first horse with money she earned picking strawberries. Soon she was racing barrels and pole-bending with western Washington riding clubs and in playdays.

In 1968, Judy moved east to Colockum Springs Ranch, in the northeast corner of the Kittitas Valley. She bred and raised horses and trained cattle dogs (later a crowd favorite at the Grandmas’ appearances). In 1979, she married Max Golladay, a former Kittitas County Commissioner. Judy and Max had a foster daughter, Peggy Mead of Lake Stevens and two grandchildren.

Judy had been hiring out as a cowhand, riding for the famed Schnebly Bar Balloon Ranch (also ERHOF inductees) and other area ranchers. She could be seen moving cattle with her three well trained cow dogs, Tar, Quil and Jude.  She formed the Sage Scrappers, her crew of veteran lady cowhands who worked and rounded up cattle Peg Hunt said Judy “just loved to ride up there on the high range. She said she was near God up there.” And former Ellensburg Rodeo Board
member Brad Fitterer noted Judy was “a really talented horsewoman who understood cattle and always had a smile for people.”

Judy Golladay died of breast cancer on August 16, 1998 at age 57. She fought the disease to end, evoking the spirit of a saying she loved—“Get western and don’t weaken.” Her wish was to beat the disease and then help and give inspiration to others who were suffering from the same affliction. The 1998 Labor Day performance of the Ellensburg Rodeo was dedicated to the Rodeo Grandmas.

At 82 in 1994, Lorraine Plass was the oldest of Rodeo Grandmas and became their story teller. A native Nebraskan and Coloradan, Plass had a long history of riding, roping, and chasing down cows.  She met her husband George at the Denver National Western Stock Show in 1928, and they had two daughters, Betty Swisher and Chloe Weidenbach. Daughter Chloe became a talented roper and Queen of the Adams County, Colorado Rodeo. Chloe married rancher Eldon Weidenbach and settled in the Kittitas Valley in 1972. Chloe and Eldon had four children, Gwen Green, Wade Weidenbach, Barbara Sheldon and Chris Weidenbach along with 11 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. Lorraine and George joined them in the Kittitas Valley in 1975 and helped out on their 800 acre ranch. At the time the Rodeo Grandmas gained popularity, Lorraine had nine grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren.

The Grandmas’ manager and photographer Molly Morrow said that Plass was “funnier than Heck,” and Lorraine herself said that at the Grandmas’ performances, “Judy takes her cow dogs, Peggy puts on her rope tricks, Janis ropes, and I just open by big mouth.”  This was her way of saying that one of her skills was yodeling. In her green fringed-leather jacket, plaid shirt and red neckerchief, faded jeans, and a felt “flat top” weathered cowboy hat, she looked like the grandma lovers of the West wish they had.

As noted, the Rodeo Grandmas of Ellensburg, Washington, enjoyed popularity that spanned far beyond their Washington Mutual Bank commercials.  For nearly a decade, they traveled across the Pacific Northwest and United States. They were special guests at the grand opening of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas. The Rodeo Grandmas appeared at conferences on aging with Senator Orrin Hatch and his wife Elaine, fundraisers, fairs, rodeos, festivals, parades, schools, commercial promotions, retirement homes, and hospitals on behalf of the bank as well as their individual group. They appeared in the Ellensburg Rodeo. Accompanied by Molly Morrow, the Grandmas were also featured on radio broadcasts and regional and national television programs, including the “CBS News This Morning,” “Entertainment Tonight,” the “Rosie O‘Donnell Show” and NBC’s “Today” show. They produced a line of “Rodeo Grandma” merchandise and even wrote a cookbook.

A funny thing happened to the Rodeo Grandmas of Ellensburg, Washington, on Interstate 90 in the mid-1990s. Journalist Hanoch McCarty recounts the story of how the Grandmas, who had become media personalities after filming a series of popular Washington Mutual Bank commercials, were driving home from SeaTac Airport after a bank appearance in Salt Lake City, Utah. The ladies, with their manager Molly Morrow driving the van, encountered a huge traffic jam that formed a bumper-to-bumper standstill near Snoqualmie Pass.

The Grandmas were sitting patiently in the van when they heard a tap at the window. “Are you the Rodeo Grandmas?,” a driver who had gotten out of an adjacent car asked them. They answered yes. “IT’S THE RODEO GRANDMAS!,” the woman then yelled out to the surrounding cars. “IT’S REALLY THEM!” Instantly, folks left their vehicles and gathered around the Grandmas’ van, chatting and wishing them well. The traffic jam had turned into a freeway autograph party.

As noted, the great popularity of their 1994 Washington Mutual commercial set the Rodeo Grandmas’ phones ringing with dozens of requests for personal appearances. Inexperienced in their new role as media stars, the Grandmas–Lorraine Plass, Peggy Minor Hunt, Janis Anderson, Judy Golladay, and Chloe Weidenbach, asked their friend Molly Morrow, a local business woman and award-winning rodeo photographer, to act as their manager.

The ladies formed an LLC, filed their own Washington State brand (Rocking RG), and secured their Rodeo Grandma Trademark.  Tacoma-based attorney (and Kittitas Valley rancher) Bill Viert’s guidance and counsel was invaluable to the troupe. Tracy O’Day from the O’Day Group in Seattle was their first publicist, and in later years Lois Rogers from Washington Mutual Bank arranged bank appearances, media interviews, commercials and travel. Dorothy Wilhelm, a Northwest celebrity speaker and television and radio host, became a great friend, interviewer, and on-stage working partner.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, the Rodeo Grandmas became national celebrities. They appeared at regional festivals, parades, schools, commercial promotions, hospitals, and in the Ellensburg Rodeo, and were known for their western lifestyle and skills at riding horses, performing roping tricks, yodeling, storytelling, and working with and roping cattle. “We’re having a ball. We’re having a blast with this,” Judy Golladay told one writer. “When (folks) recognize us, they start grinning and grinning and grinning (and) pretty soon they’re chuckling. They really enjoyed watching us on that commercial.”

The Grandmas appeared on regional and national radio broadcasts and television programs, including the “CBS News This Morning,” “Entertainment Tonight,” the “Rosie O‘Donnell Show” and NBC’s “Today” show. One of their most widely-read interviews was with journalist Hanoch McCarty, author of Chicken Soup for Grandparent’s Soul. And the Rodeo Grandmas developed a line of merchandise–neckerchiefs, lariats, t-shirts, and tote bags–that they sold at their appearances. They even wrote a cookbook titled Good Lookin’ Cookin With the Rodeo Grandmas.

The Rodeo Grandmas’ performances varied in length and components, depending on the audience and the venue. Indoors, Molly Morrow would begin by showing short film clips of the bank commercials and television interviews, and then introduce the Grandmas. The women talked with the audience about their cowgirl lives and answered questions. Each possessed skills that became part of the performance. Peg was a trick roper, while Janis and Judy expertly lassoed a “roping dummy” astride “Handsome Jack”, a life-sized paint horse with a calf on a track they brought with them. Lorraine turned out to be a real entertainer, regaling the audiences with western tales and teaching them how to yodel.

Appearing in an arena, the women demonstrated their horsemanship, while Peg performed her rope trick repertoire and the Grandmas roped real cattle. In one performance of the Ellensburg Rodeo, Janis’ team-roping “rodeo grandsons”–pre-teens Brady and Riley Minor–became part of the show. Judy’s crowd-pleasers were her cow dogs Tar, Quill, and Jude.  Judy would show the audience how the dogs would work off hand and voice signals to simulate hunting up cattle.

Judy Golladay’s 1998 death (at age 57) from cancer was met with extreme sadness and she was mourned throughout cattle country. At the time, local businessman and rodeo board member Brad Fitterer noted that Galloway and the Grandmas “have come to represent not only Washington Mutual but also the Ellensburg Rodeo and Kittitas County.”  Judy’s empty saddle was eventually filled by Lorraine’s daughter Chloe Weidenbach. A seasoned cowgirl in her own right, Chloe was already a member of the grandma entourage, accompanying her mother and wrangling the Rodeo Grandmas’ horses and stock. Chloe’s role in the performances featured her horsemanship and roping skills. “I’ve learned to put my heart into what I’m doing,” she later reflected.

Molly Morrow has many wonderful memories of the Grandmas’ road trips and television appearances. They were good improvisers, and on the Rosie O’Donnell Show Grandma Judy coaxed the host into trying her hand at lassoing the mechanical calf on a track while seated on their life-size stationary horse “Handsome Jack.” “And when she (O’Donnell) actually roped the thing,” Morrow laughs, “the live television audience went absolutely crazy with cheers and applause!”

Morrow says that, around 2004, the Grandmas began to reduce the number of their appearances and return to their daily lives. Lorraine Plass passed away at 94 on October 20, 2006, and Peggy Minor Hunt passed away at 86 on May 25, 2014, leaving Janis Anderson and Chloe Weidenbach as the remaining Rodeo Grandmas of Ellensburg, Washington. Both will be present at the induction banquet with their families and those of Judy, Peg, and Lorraine.

Looking back on the decade when they were in the public eye, we can ask what it was about the Rodeo Grandmas that so captured the public’s imagination? Peg Minor Hunt probably hit the nail on the head when she said in 1998, “Something about being a grandma and being up on a horse seems to be the attraction.” Hall of Fame board member Joe Powell agrees: “Although in Ellensburg it’s pretty common to see grandmas riding and roping, that image of active grandmas on the ranch struck a chord with viewers, and the grandmas were instantly famous.”

And while fusing mythic “wild west” images with those of venerable elders, the Rodeo Grandmas also became role models and spokespersons for their generation of senior citizens. Janis Anderson and Chloe Weidenbach spoke often of the extra energy and feeling that horses added to their lives, and Lorraine said that the Grandmas’ horseback riding “builds your muscles, expands your chest, makes you breathe more deeply…it’s a good clean life.” Peg Minor Hunt told a reporter, “You have to have something to get up for in the morning. When you sit in the rocking chair, you don’t get anywhere.”

“I think I was born to be a Rodeo Grandma,” Peg continued. “Everything in my life seemed to be aimed in this direction. I knew that something special was going to happen in my life, and look, here it is!”