I’m not going to sit here and tell you how close a friend Ken Luman was to me. That’d be fiction, and the truth is my bag.
But Ken was a guy who’s been around the ropings and rodeos all my life, and he reminds me in a few ways of my dad in that he loved to rope and compete, he was a man of few public words and he always put his family first. Only his true friends got to the gold inside, but man, were they lucky. Ken didn’t run his mouth to listen to himself talk, but when he did speak it was straight-up.
Ken was his own worst critic in the arena-loved to win, hated to lose. That probably has a lot to do with why he was mopping up the arena floor with his competition as a teenager, and how he maintained that winning edge to the end. Ken roped at the National Finals Rodeo 13 straight times from 1964-76, and won Rodeo’s Super Bowl twice with Jimmy Rodriguez in 1966 and ’73. Ken was on a roll again this spring at the PRCA gold card ropings. Then he got sick.
Kenneth Norval Luman was born March 30, 1943 to his late parents, Norval and Loree Luman, in Roswell, N.M. Doctors diagnosed Ken with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia the first week in May. He died July 13 at Stanford University Medical Center at the age of 61. It was a couple days before the rodeo at Salinas, which simply wasn’t the same without him. All his cowboy friends wore black arm bands there in his honor, and shared horseback Luman stories while they sat around and watched the slack.
Ken, who was a lifetime resident of Atwater, Calif., is survived by his wife of 27 years and love of his life, NFR barrel racer Cheryl; daughter Cindy Luman of Livermore, and her new husband, Jake Clapton; daughter Julie Luman Anderson of Livingston, her husband,
Pete, and son, Nolan; daughter Chelley Dallara of San Rafael, her husband, Chris, and daughter, Cassie; brother Phil and sister-in-law Jenelle of Poplar, Mont.; and brother Roger of Sun City, Ariz.
Ken’s family and friends got together July 22 for a memorial service at the Merced Elks Lodge. It was a chance for everyone to get together to remember and celebrate the life of one of the great ones. It was neat for me personally to get to meet some of Ken’s closest family members for the first time, and a chance to spend a day away from this computer with my dad. I’m pretty good at appreciating people and life by nature, but Ken’s sudden departure was another gentle reminder for all of us not to take anyone we care about for granted and to try to live each day like it was our last.
Ken’s family would appreciate memorial donations be made to Hinds Hospice of Merced, P.O. Box 763, Merced, CA 95341 or the American Cowboys Team Roping Association Catastrophe Fund, c/o Mike Sweeney, 21098 Avenue 328, Woodlake, CA 93286.
I sat down and visited with a few of Ken’s friends at Salinas. They spoke of his love for roping, fishing and a good round of pitch. They laughed about the good old days, and getting through the tough times together. How great to get to visit with John Miller over a barbecued feast at the Wheatley-Lockett-Kelton camp. How nice to take time for more than a smile and simple “hello” with guys like Jim Wheatley, Junior Muzio, Ace Berry, Leo Camarillo and Jack Roddy, who’ve been my dad’s buddies since before I was born. How fun to see the respect flow from contemporary greats like Jake Barnes, Clay O’Brien Cooper, Rich Skelton, David Motes and Allen Bach. How wonderful to see so many grown men cry with smiles on their faces while reminiscing about all the good times.
Ken’s friends can say it best, so here they are. The unedited version would be a book, but the whole story will live on in these guys’ hearts forever.
Ken and I were partners for 13 years. No team’s made it that long before or since, and in our era we were the Dream Team. Ken could trap a steer or he could rope one out of the air, and whether he was team tying or dallying, he was one of the quickest heelers there was. Ken and I were friends all the way through. Good friends.- Jimmy Rodriguez
I roped with Ken, and was always in awe of him because he had so much raw talent. In fact, he had so much more talent than me that I never really roped very good for him. Ken was tough, tough, tough when he was 15 years old. That’s how he caught Jimmy Rodriguez’s eye. What a natural team those two were. They made the rest of us sick for a long time. Ken Luman was 20 years ahead of his time. – John Miller
Ken and I went to rodeos when our dads (Norval and John) were entered and we were kids. We all played together. When Ken was barely a teenager he was cocky. And he could back it up. He was the first young kid at that time in our area who could rope that way. He could just flat rope. Ken and I used to rope the lead steer by the hour when we were kids, and I roped with him a lot at jackpots and the amateur rodeos. My first two PRCA rodeos were Ventura and Fresno, and I won Ventura with Ken and Fresno with Ace (Berry).- Jim Wheatley
I knew Ken since I was about 14. I grew up roping around him all my life, and he was one of the toughest competitors in the sport ’til the day he died. Ken always had to be reckoned with. It wasn’t over ’til he roped.- Ace Berry
I roped with Ken when I was a kid, and I was his last partner. Way back when, Ken was being 5 when no one else was doing that. And we got a check at his last rodeo (Clovis this spring). He was so talented and so competitive. When you backed in that box with Ken, you knew you had a chance to win, and a good chance. What a lot of fun we had.- Junior Muzio
Ken was the first of the young guns who grew up in roping country with a rope in his hand. The horsemanship, the discipline and the practice were all there. Ken was the first wave to come along and change the complexion of team roping. Before him, team roping was dominated by the older guys. Ken showed people what a kid could do if he grew up working at it. He swung his rope at a quicker tempo than was traditional for heelers, and developed a style that was consistently fast. Jimmy Rodriguez and Ken Luman were analogous to Jake and Clay or Speed and Rich back in the day. There was them, and there was everyone else. – Frank Santos
We had a gold card roping at Santa Maria one year, and John W. (Jones) had his accountant put up the money for beautiful buckles. Ken and I won the roping, and when they gave us those buckles and we were introduced to the buckle sponsor, Ken presented his buckle back to him. That man had tears in his eyes. That’s the kind of gentleman Ken Luman was. – Jack Roddy
When I started in the PRCA, Ken Luman was the baddest heeler I’d ever seen – period. He’s a guy who set the bar on top of the world. To have any success, in my eyes, he was the guy to beat. Ken had a horse he called Red Man that’s the kind that comes along once in a champion’s career, like Stick did for me. Ken had a lot of natural ability, and was one of the first guys to swing his rope with authority. He was bad news – the baddest in the business. He could really rope, that guy.- Leo Camarillo
Ken was winding down when I was coming in, but Rodriguez and Luman were the team back then. Ken could come around the corner and throw it every time, and his percentage of catching was very high. Ken always stayed active in the sport. If he wasn’t roping, he was flagging or judging the line at the BFI. And he and Cheryl helped make gold card ropings what they are today. Ken Luman put a whole lot back into the sport, and made it what it is today. I highly respected him for his accomplishments in the sport I love.- David Motes
When I first started roping, the only two guys who taught roping schools were Leo Camarillo and Ken Luman. Ken’s one of the guys who helped shape team roping as it is today. Being one of the respected, dominant ropers, people imitated him. At one time, Ken and I lived right across the street from each other. It was so humbling to me when he came and asked me about timing cattle and roping them out of the air. Here he was a world champion, and he was open-minded enough to want to learn more about roping. The last time I saw Ken was on his horse roping at Clovis this spring. Now he’s gone, but he got to live the desires of his heart all the way. Hats off to you, Ken Luman. Allen Bach would like to go out the same way someday.- Allen Bach
I didn’t know Ken very well, but I remember him telling me one time when we were sitting on our horses watching slack somewhere that he won the world the year I was born. I guess 1966 was a pretty good year for the roping world. – Rich Skelton
Ken was one of the icons in this industry. It makes you stop and think about your own career. We all want to make a mark. Sooner or later we’ll all be at that crossroads. My heart goes out to Ken’s family. He got to live his life as a cowboy and a competitor, and he got to be one of the best. He had the freedom of a cowboy, and lived his life doing something he loved. How many people on this earth get to do what they want and accomplish their goals? Way to go, Ken.- Jake Barnes
When I was growing up around my stepdad’s roping jackpots, Ken Luman was mentioned in the same talk as the Camarillos and Jim Rodriguez. When I was a kid, I remember Ken roping with Jim Rodriguez and they were one of my play teams. I’d have imaginary ropings when I was roping the dummy by myself, and Reg and Leo, H.P. and Jerold, and Jim Rodriguez and Ken Luman were the teams. So when I grew up, Ken was one of my heroes. I’ve known Ken all my life, and I knew his dad, Norval. Ken was obviously one of the best of his era. Guys like him are the guys we looked up to. They became our heroes, and were our motivation to rope for a living and be world champions like them. I admire those guys. Ken was always very nice and very friendly to me. As my career progressed, and Jake and I started winning championships, he’d always ask us how we were doing when we were in California in the spring. He encouraged us to do well. Ken was just a very nice gentleman.