Rodeo comes naturally to Clarence Ritchie. It’s not that he started out roping as a youngster, but it represents what is most important to him–family,friends and traditional values. Rodeo is a pure American sport that brings families and friends together in celebration of our western heritage.
In the early 1930s, Virgie and Floyd Ritchie brought their young children, Clarence, Juanita and Ruby, from the Oklahoma dust bowl to the Central Valley to begin again in farming. They settled in the Visalia area, where they had four more children, Clyde, Doyle, Floyd Jr. and Ilene.
In June of 1944, young Clarence graduated from Visalia High School and one week later found himself at Coronado Island Naval Base for amphibian training.
After serving our nation in the South Pacific, Clarence was honorably discharged in 1947. He returned back home to California and soon rented 40 acres to farm cotton. A self-made man, Clarence has been farming ever since. His acreage has increased considerably and now produces a cornucopia of products–corn, alfalfa, wine grapes, almonds, walnuts, pecans, prunes, olives, oranges and yes, still some cotton.
With the farm prospering, Clarence bought his first horse in 1956 and began team roping. His first partners were Chester Brase as well as Bob and Frank Blaswich. Chester and Frank have passed on, but Bob still comes to the rodeos.
Clarence was quickly hooked on the sport. Always friendly and outgoing, he enjoyed meeting cowboys and gaining new skills on the rodeo circuit. In 1961 he and partner Ted Bernard won the Chowchilla Stampede. It was a wonderful experience shared with his young sons, Larry and Jeff.
Rodeo is an infectious sport–soon Larry and Jeff were on the saddle too. It has become a family sport for the entire family. In addition to Larry and Jeff, Clarence’s grandsons, Casey and Christopher as well as nephews Greg, Matt, Scott and Mitch also share his enthusiasm for the team roping. One of Clarence’s proudest moments was in 1996 when he and Casey won the #6 Roping at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.
Clarence and his family have been actively involved in rodeo for more than 50 years of riding, roping and fellowship. He is a gold card member of the PRCA–a privilege afforded to cowboys with at least 20 years of rodeo participation and 50 years of age. He is also active in the American Cowboy Team Roping Association and the US Roping Association, as well as the Senior Pro Rodeo Association.
Whether in the saddle or as a spectator, Clarence and the boys can’t seem to get enough of rodeo. Every year they look forward to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, held in December and the Timed Event in Guthrie, OK in March.
Because of his love of the sport and appreciation of its value to the community, Clarence approached the Woodlake Lions in 1997 with the idea of sponsoring a Senior Pro Rodeo in Woodlake. The Lions enthusiastically embraced the idea and quickly began planning for their first senior pro rodeo in October 1998.
In cooperation with the Woodlake Lions, Clarence is a major sponsor. He puts in countless hours of work to prepare for the big weekend in October, as well as, underwriting the 27 Gist Championship Buckles. And thanks to the generosity of like-minded friends, a number of these cherished buckles have found individual sponsorship.
But he’s never too busy to get out in arena with his header partner, Ron Poindexter. In or out of the arena, you’ll know Clarence when you see him, he’s the smiling cowboy welcoming you and yours to the Woodlake Lions 6th Annual Senior Pro Rodeo and he’s always hoping you’ll have the time to stop for a quick, “Howdy!”