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By Jim Cornelius
News Editor 

John Leavitt retires from Sisters Rodeo


Last updated 7/20/2022 at Noon


John Leavitt is hanging up his spurs as a member of the Sisters Rodeo Association board of directors.

“It’s time,” he told The Nugget. “It’s been 45 years.”

Leavitt’s service to Sisters’ longest-running event may have spanned more than four decades, but he’s really been a rodeo man most all his life.

Leavitt grew up on his family’s cattle ranch in Lakeview.

“We ran cattle on 37,000 acres,” he recalled. “It’s the best way to grow up… I went to my first rodeo when I was 8 or 9 years old. That was in Klamath Falls. I roped cows here in Sisters when I was 16… My sister barrel-raced.”

Leavitt credited his parents, Darrell and June, for an exceptional upbringing.

“I had great parents, that’s for sure,” he said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am, that’s for sure. They just encouraged us in everything we did. We always had good horses. That was my folks. They always made sure we were mounted.”

At the age of 24, Leavitt toured Europe with the Rodeo Far West Tour, organized and sponsored by Wrangler, Coca Cola, and Ford Motor Company. The tour was a Wild West show similar to the Buffalo Bill shows at the turn of the 20th Century. The tour included 60 people — cowboys, barrel racers, 15 Sioux Indian dancers, and livestock.

The tour performed in Italy, Switzerland, and France.

“It was a good deal,” Leavitt said. “Probably the most fun I’ve ever had.”

In addition to ranching, Leavitt’s father and uncles owned a trucking company. On one trip up Highway 20 through Sisters in 1976, they noticed a western wear store on Cascade Avenue. The store was owned by Sisters pioneers Harold and Dorothy Barclay, whom the Leavitts’ knew through ranch and rodeo connections. They were interested in selling the business, which they had operated for a year. They told John about this potential business opportunity, and Leavitt roped it and tied it down, taking ownership of what would become Leavitt’s Western Wear in March 1977.

The store quickly became one of the linchpin retailers in Sisters — and John became an active participant in Sisters Rodeo.

“With the store and all, it made sense to do that,” he said. “But I’d have done it anyway.”

Leavitt became a board member in the 1980s and served as an arena director and timed-event coordinator, as well as serving on the queen-selection committee. And throughout most of those years, he was also a contestant.

“I steer-wrestled, team-roped, and roped calves,” he recalled.

“He did just an outstanding job of doing his job,” Sisters Rodeo Association President Curt Kallberg told The Nugget. “He was super strong on the timed events.”

That was a critical role, where mix-ups can cause a lot of headaches. That was never a worry with John Leavitt in charge.

“He just made the Rodeo run so smooth because he was just so good at his job,” Kallberg said.

Leavitt said he plans to simply enjoy his time in retirement, and work on the place where he and his wife, Kathryn, make their home on the outskirts of town.

Reflecting on his decades of service to the iconic Sisters event, he noted, “Everyone’s replaceable. It’ll go on like it always has.”

Kallberg isn’t so sanguine about the departure.

“I hope we can replace him,” he said. “But it won’t be easy.”

John Leavitt can ride off into the sunset knowing that he helped the Sisters Rodeo truly live up to its reputation as “The Biggest Little Show in the World” — and he leaves a big pair of boots to fill.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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