A Family Tradition: The Ward Roping
Family reunions are quite unique for the Ward family. Since 2004, they have hosted the Annual Bud Ward Memorial Roping. The only contestants allowed to enter are those descended from Bud and Sis Ward, or those married to the descendants. The first year, 12 ropers entered. This year, they expect several dozen.
The patriarch of the family disliked his full name–Woodrow Wilson Ward–so he was better known as Bud. He met his bride, LaVon (Sis), when she was in high school at Merriman, Nebraska, and the two settled on the family homestead near Lacreek, south of Martin, South Dakota, part of which is now the Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge.
Bud and Sis gave birth to their first child, Judy (Livermont), and shortly after, Bud deployed for World War II for nearly five years in the Pacific Theatre. After returning home to the ranch, he and Sis grew their family and expanded their ranch. When Bud’s father died, he was forced to sell the homestead, so Bud resettled his family north of Martin and they had four more children: Beverly (Byrne); John; Diana (Porch); and Tom.
Bud left a lasting legacy. All of his children still own and operate ranches in the Martin area, and a majority of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren compete in western sports. Bev owns most of her parents’ original place, with Tom owning a portion of it. “We’ve lived here all of our lives,” she says.
Bev remembers traveling with her father while he was competing in amateur rodeos. In the 1950s, Bud put mattresses in the back of the pickup on which his children, and oftentimes neighbor children, would ride. It was only fitting that Bud’s memorial, and the yearly family reunion, would incorporate team roping and rodeo events.
John, with help from his mother, came up with the idea to have the memorial roping. Each year, the men and boys help to get the arena and steers prepared to rope, and the ladies help organize the prizes and potluck. Rosie Ward serves as the secretary. Bev and her sister were taking a headcount of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren attending this year and they were shocked to realize that number was 30. “It’s getting pretty big,” she says.
For the past 17 years, the hosting duties have rotated among the five siblings. This year, the roping will be held in Kadoka on Sept.12 with Dianne Porch’s family producing the event. It is historically held in the month of September to honor Bud’s birthday, which was Sept. 25.
“My mom, before she died, told me, ‘Don’t ever let the roping die.’ We’re hoping that it will go on after we’re gone,” says Judy Livermont. LaVon passed away in 2016, and though attendance varies each year, it’s tradition now. With the incorporation of kids’ events, the family roping is sure to carry on for years to come.
The morning of the roping begins with flag race, barrel racing, stick horse races, and other youth events, determined by the hosts. A potluck lunch is served, followed by three rounds of a round robin roping. Each year, a saddle is awarded to the winner and a breast collar for second place. Judy’s husband, Butch Livermont, passed away in 2014, so a Fast-Time rope bag was also incorporated in his memory.
Families change, grow, and sadly leave some members behind each year. So as not to forget those who have passed on, t-shirts are printed in memoriam. To date, they honor Bud and Sis; Butch Livermont; Les Byrne; Bev Ward; Tom’s son, Jeramy Ward; and Bev’s son, Joe Byrne.
Last year, the oldest and youngest ropers present were John Ward (73) and Addison Byrne (8). Three generations compete against one another in the arena, and four generations are present for the reunion–the only hindrance to their competing being that a few are still in strollers. Yet, the younger descendants of Bud Ward show prowess in the arena from an early age. “Some of the grandchildren are pretty good ropers,” says Bev Byrne. A few have won the saddle multiple times. She says if the saddle is won by someone more than once, the winner generally bows out to allow another to win it. The goal is for everyone in the family to wind up with a saddle featuring Bud’s name.
Ten of Bud’s great-grandchildren just finished competing at the South Dakota State 4-H Finals in Ft. Pierre in August. Many of the descendants had success in high school, college, Indian National Finals Rodeo, and professional rodeos. In 2019, Shayne Porch’s daughter, Shaylee, won the breast collar at the age of 11, so the future of rodeo in the family is bright.
Judy says that her favorite part about the roping is getting the family together at least once a year. “That was my mom’s wish,” she said. The sisters look for around 80 family members to attend in 2021.
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