Town turns out to honor its own
by Jessica Langdon
Special to The Leaven
WESTPHALIA — In his 70 years, Butch Ludolph made a permanent impact on Westphalia, his lifelong home.
So his unexpected death in April left a deep hole in the community — a hole that was in some small measure filled when friends and relatives rallied together two months later to help his family through the first hay baling without him.
“If it would have been the other way around and it would have been somebody else, Butch would have been right there in the middle of it helping put up their hay,” said Tom Johnson, a longtime friend and fellow member of the Knights of Columbus at St. Teresa Parish in Westphalia.
Ludolph died on April 29, just a few days shy of his 71st birthday (which also would have been the 51st anniversary of his marriage to his wife, Esther).
The two knew one another in grade school and high school, and Butch’s wit won Esther’s heart.
The couple raised four sons: Alton, Chad, Wes and Kenton.
Butch joined the Knights at his parish in his late teens and, even when the boys were little and he was running the Ludolph Truck Line, he took on the responsibilities that came with serving as Grand Knight, a challenge he turned into fun.
Members of the organization he’d been part of for so long — as well as others in the community — pitched in when the request came to lend a hand on the land where Butch and Kenton have been running cattle and putting up hay over the past decade.
“You can see he belonged to a wonderful organization and had a wonderful group of friends here to support him and help him,” said Esther.
“I just remember Butch from many, many years ago,” said Jake Lickteig, who lives 14 miles away in Emerald, but considers the Ludolphs neighbors and wanted to pitch in for the man he played basketball with back in the 1950s and 1960s.
“He took life seriously,” he said. “I liked him.”
It was easy to see just how much everyone liked him — and the whole family — simply by looking at the amount of work that took place within a few hours on a hot Kansas day.
In all, 204 bales of hay were hauled off — one by one.
“I remember Butch from years past — haying with him,” said Tony Johnson, who helped that day.
“Through every flat tire and breakdown, you could still see Butch walking across the field with a bow-legged walk, a KU shirt and a smile no matter how bad it was,” he said.
“And he would come up and he would tell you that he had found one more small patch that we could probably put up yet,” he added.
And Alton knew that if the need for even more help on the Ludolph land arose after this haying was done, it would be just a call away.
‘Always a part’
While agriculture is a living for many in the rural community, it was more of a hobby for Butch, taken up later in life.
“I think he enjoyed it more than he let on at times, too,” said Dave Pracht, longtime friend and current Grand Knight.
Johnson always enjoyed the questions Butch asked when he turned to the experts — his friends — for advice.
“He enjoyed everybody,” said Esther, looking around the group that had gathered to help the family, noting the wide age range represented.
“He was a kid person,” said Johnson. “Of course, he was just a big kid himself.”
He recalled Esther talking about her “five little boys” — her four sons and her husband.
Austin Teter, 10, is Kenton Ludolph’s godson, and what he remembers most about Butch is “how good Butch was about helping people out.”
So naturally he wanted to do his part and continue Butch’s legacy by pitching in however he could on June 29. He had only one regret about the day of hard work.
“I kind of wish Butch was there helping,” he said.
Tom Dieker, the oldest of the group, has lived in the same home for 75 years just half a mile outside town, and he misses seeing Butch when he passes by.
“If he’d be mowing the yard or anything, I could just drop in and see what was going on,” he said.
“And a lot of times, that’d be nothing!” was Esther’s rejoinder.
“But you didn’t want to miss out,” said Pracht.
This close community, which extends far beyond the limits of Westphalia, will always feel the loss of this man who also managed the local co-op for many years, belonged to the Lions Club and participated in just about every community effort imaginable.
“Butch will always be part of Westphalia,” said Johnson.
When Tom Johnson’s daughter Caroline married Butch’s son Kenton, she was warmly welcomed into the Ludolph family.
Johnson remembers the care Butch showed Caroline, who died of cancer in 2008, during her illness.
“Butch loved her and took her places — to doctors’ appointments and such,” said Johnson. “And we thank him for that.”
Alton said at Butch’s visitation that Caroline’s first concern when they met again in heaven was whether he’d brought with him the KU elephant sculpture he’d bought — over her protests — on the way to one of her appointments.
Butch’s grandson Jeremy Ludolph was part of the group — which also included Merlin and Shorty Carpenter and Alton — that mowed the weekend ahead of the baling work.
It was hot and hard work, and Jeremy was relieved to know the baling — thanks to so many hands — would be done when he got finished working on June 29.
But farming wasn’t all that tied Butch to the community. Trucking runs generations deep in this family, and that was something Jeremy shared with Butch.
Long after Butch had moved on from his truck line, he was always still happy to climb back in the driver’s seat.
“You’d just see on his face that he was thrilled to be back in it,” remembered Jeremy.
The phrase that summed up Butch for Doug Dieker, who helped with the baling, is “true team leader.”
His devotion — whether it was to his neighbors, his sports teams, his family or his faith — made an impact.
“You would see him in church every Sunday,” said Matt Dieker. “There wasn’t a Sunday you wouldn’t see Butch or Esther there.”
“I can’t speak highly enough of this family,” said Heath Ohl, who has known Kenton for many years.
“Butch always treated me like a son,” he said. “I think the thing I’ll miss is the golfing outings, the stories that he would tell.”
“He always had a smile on his face,” said Ron Ohl. “He was just a great guy to know.”
‘About a perfect day’
As it was, the town had a fine day in which to honor Butch with their service.
“Would have been about a perfect day,” said Johnson.
“Only thing missing was Butch.”