KATHERINE ‘KAY’ FORBES HAGEMAN (1926-2007)
Inducted in 2018
The late Kay Hageman (1926-2007) was, for over three decades, the key player in the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce’s marketing the Ellensburg Rodeo and coordinating many rodeo events. Known for her intelligence, professionalism, wit, and sociability, Hageman gained a regional reputation as an effective representative of Ellensburg and its rodeo. She loved Kittitas County and spent her entire life here.
Kay Hageman born on September 10, 1926 to Harold and Bessie Vincent Forbes, the youngest of five children and the only one born in a hospital. Kay’s parents were territorial pioneers, having come to the Swauk Creek District (at the base of Blewett Pass) in the late 1880s, and she grew up on the family’s Swauk homestead in a world with strong connections to the pioneer past. The Forbes family farmed, ranched, logged, and mined to earn a living.
In 1945, following World War II and her graduation from Cle Elum High School, Kay moved from the Swauk to Ellensburg, where she took a clerical job at the Washington State unemployment office. She married Bob Hageman, a member of the Ellensburg Rodeo Posse, and they built a log home on Dry Creek Road. On July 1, 1953, she went to work as secretary for the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce and began what was to become an pivotal career as a Chamber employee.
From the Chamber of Commerce’s Antler’s Hotel headquarters on 6thand Pearl, Kay Hageman worked alongside Chamber Manager and legendary rodeo announcer George Prescott (also an ERHOF inductee). “I was green as grass when I started as secretary to George,” she recalled. Kay immediately became a well-liked and respected member of the downtown business community.
In 1957, Prescott stepped down as Manager (though he continued to announce the Ellensburg Rodeo for more than a decade) and the Chamber board began to search for what the Ellensburg Daily Record described as a “top man” to take Prescott’s place. Hageman served as “interim Manager” until 1957, when the Chamber board concluded she was obviously the most qualified candidate. Hageman became the Chamber of Commerce’s first female Manager and one of the only female Managers in the state.
Kay Hageman worked under a board of directors and a Chamber President, selected annually from the business community. She flourished in that ever-changing administrative structure and gained a reputation as a smart, hard worker and both a team member and leader. During her tenure, Kay Hageman was heavily involved in promoting a new community hospital (KVCH), the historic preservation and retailing in the downtown business district, agriculture awareness, the Kittitas County Fair, Central Washington University, Olmstead State Park, and many other economic developments. She represented the county in the dedication of the Washington State Ferry Kittitas.Hageman welcomed and entertained VIPs, including governors, senators, and congressmen and congresswomen, and she was well-known and respected in Olympia.
Looking back on the ranch and rodeo role in community business, Hageman recalled entertaining hundreds of “tour groups…. We accommodated tourists, and the posse, local ranchers, and cowboys always helped out with western entertainment.”
Kay Hageman began her Chamber career during a time when the Ellensburg Rodeo and Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce were nearly one in the same organization. Rodeo business dominated the Chamber “from July ‘til after Labor Day,” she remembered, with long lines and phones ringing constantly. “The rodeo has been a boon to the local economy and really put us on the map,” she stated.
Hageman performed rodeo tasks as varied as publicity and marketing (including television and radio ads), recording contestant entry fees, coordinating hundreds of rodeo volunteers, entertaining VIP guests, arranging lodging for rodeo visitors, and keeping financial records and competition statistics. She even accompanied and chaperoned the Ellensburg Rodeo Queen and other state royalty attending the Pasadena Rose Parade.
It was Kay Hageman who conceived the idea of coordinating with the annual Western Art Show to use original art for the annual rodeo poster, and she worked with Ellensburg Rodeo Board Member John Foster (also an ERHOF Inductee) and the Western Art Association to select of Joy Gordon’s “Dust Stirring” as the first art poster.
“You don’t think about (Ellensburg Rodeo) volunteers without thinking about Kay Hageman,” stated longtime rodeo board member and ERHOF inductee Allen Faltus. “She is special.” Always quick with a witty reply, Hageman once stated that being Chamber director “kept me young. Of course, I was only twelve when I started this job.”
In 1987, Kay Forbes Hageman retired after thirty-five years of service. She was the longest serving Chamber of Commerce manager in the state of Washington. In retirement, she continued to live with and care for her mother Bessie in their Manitoba Street duplex until Bessie succumbed at age 100. Hageman was 1988 Grand Marshal of the Ellensburg Rodeo Parade and a performance of the 1988 Ellensburg Rodeo was dedicated to her.
Kay Forbes Hageman died December 23, 2007, at 81 years of age. She had a rich life that began on a Swauk Creek homestead and led to the Manager’s seat at the Chamber of Commerce and, now, induction into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame. She is survived by a score of nieces and nephews, including John David Forbes, who will accept her induction on August 30.