Rodeo Assoc. marks passing of John Leavitt


Last updated 5/4/2023 at 12:21pm

The man described as the “heart and soul of Sisters Rodeo” has gone up the trail.

Sisters Rodeo announced last weekend that John Leavitt, a longtime Sisters businessman and Rodeo Association board member, has died.

Leavitt owned Leavitt’s Western Wear in Sisters (now Dixie’s) for many years, and, as Sue Stafford recently noted in a column, he was always ready to welcome new folks to town.

Leavitt retired from 45 years of service with Sisters Rodeo last summer, and The Nugget sat down with him in July to recall his lifetime of connections to the classic Western sport.

As that article reported, Leavitt’s service to Sisters’ longest-running event may have spanned more than four decades, but he was 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.”

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.

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.

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

In its statement, the Rodeo Association said, “We all carry a heavy heart with the loss of John, especially the long and deep friendship he had with many of us. What a great man! Many believe he was the heart and soul of Sisters Rodeo. Our rodeo family will not be the same without his presence, but we will always be eternally grateful for his leadership that led us to be the amazing rodeo we are today.”


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