It is no secret that people from all over the country travel to Louisville each year for their time on the green chips. While we all appreciate the show and industry in the present, it is important to recognize the people behind the events, genetics and traditions we all cherish. Jack Ragsdale is a matriarch of the livestock industry. Last year in the busy main aisle at the North American International Livestock Expo, we had the privilege of being able to sit down with Jack and learn his story. Now, at the age of 92, he continues to share and inspire us with his experiences and impact on the industry as we know it.
Born with a love of animals, Jack spent his Summers at his Uncle and Aunt’s farm outside of Franklin, Indiana starting at the age of nine in 1935. There were no modern conveniences and church was a big deal. His family had three teams of work horses, they worked slow and it wasn’t always easy; but according to Jack, “…it was great.” Jack was excited when he was finally old enough to stay overnight at the local county fair where they slept in the loft over the hog pens. From the practical jokes he and his friends played on each other to the overall experience, it was always a highlight of the year.
Jack’s love for the industry was rooted as a young boy and continued to grow on into college and the rest of his life. He attended Franklin College, but only got a semester in before he was called to serve our Country at the age of 18. After his time in the service, Jack returned to school and continued his college career at Purdue. He was an active member of his Collegiate Livestock Judging Team where he was highly successful. In 1948, Ragsdale was named High Individual at the Chicago Stock Show Livestock Judging Competition. Not only did they have to evaluate cattle, hogs and lambs, draft horses were also a part of the 12 classes and 8 sets of reasons. Jack, to this day, remembers every last detail from his big win in Chicago. He explained how he averaged a 48.6 on reasons (including a couple 50s) and had the highest score of all-time. A record of which stood for several years after. For Jack, it was a true honor years later when he was asked to officiate the same contest that he won years prior alongside J.C. McLean and Walter Lewis.
His time as a judge, however, did not end with college. Jack Ragsdale has judged shows from California to New York, as well as Internationally. His biggest honor was judging the World Shorthorn Show in Argentina where they had to use an interpreter for reasons.
The Shorthorn breed has always been a passion for Jack. Having served as a past President of the American Shorthorn Association, he has worked for or with many premier Shorthorn breeders. Jack actually imported one of the first females from Australia to the United States. She was flown in by airplane and had to make a pit stop in Hawaii before landing in Texas.
Jack was one of the men highly instrumental in the foundation of the show beloved for its green chips, the North American International Livestock Exposition. With the Chicago Stockyards gone in the fire, it left a void in the industry for another major Stock Show. The NAILE was given $50,000 from the State of Kentucky to host the first show in Louisville, Kentucky. There were five breeds of cattle included in the inaugural North American – Angus, Polled Herefords, Horned Herefords, Charolais and Shorthorn. Over the years, sheep, hogs, quarter horses and dairy were implemented into the show. The NAILE has host exhibitors from 48 states and Canada. In addition to serving as the Beef Cattle Chair, Jack was the Chairmen of the Board for the NAILE Executive Committee. His background and passion for the industry has helped mold the show to what it is today.
Jack Ragsdale’s impact on the industry was evident as our meeting with him in Louisville was interrupted kindly numerous times by fellow members of the livestock industry – just to say hello and give a kind word or share a memory. When asked about his life, he raves about his wife of 70 years, Ruthanne, his family and says, “it’s been a lot of fun.”