“Mrs. Tucumcari” celebrates 89 years

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

When 39-year-old Bettie Ditto came from Chicago to Tucumcari in 1955, she said she was not intending to stay. She inherited Route 66’s Lins Motor Lodge after her dad’s death and said she planned to sell the place as quickly as possible and make a beeline back to the Windy City.

“I came during a dreadful dust storm,” Ditto said, “and I did not think very highly of the place.”

But nobody wanted to buy the motor lodge. So she transformed the nine-unit Lins into the sprawling Pow Wow Lodge and soon began rallying behind a bastion of community causes and serving on the City Commission, where she continues to hold a seat as the oldest commissioner ever at age 89.

Or she will be 89 on Sept. 14 and the City Commission has planned a birthday party for the woman some call “Mrs. Tucumcari” directly following their 6 p.m. on Thursday in the City Commission chambers on East Center Street.

“Bettie came from Chicago with two children and made life for herself,” said Mayor Mary Mayfield. “She has worked diligently with economic development and tourism and currently is working with a committee to stabilize the walls and get Five Mile Park like it was in the 1950s and 60s,” Mayfield said. “She is just very dedicated to getting it back.”

Based on Ditto’s tale of success, she appears dedicated to everything she touches.

One of her most noteworthy accomplishments was the construction of the Pow Wow, which remains one of the most popular motels in town.

“We expanded from nine rooms to 90,” Ditto said, adding she could not have done anything without the support — and funds — from her business partner John Farrell.

“I thought he was just a big Texan talking,” Ditto said of Farrell when they first met and he expressed interest in helping her rebuild. “But he came through on his word.”

Ditto said the motor lodge rapidly expanded, with the addition of a bowling alley in the early 1960s, a new 16-unit suite in 1975 and another series of units known as Pow Wow South.

The bowling alley became today’s Pow Wow West; the 16-unit suite became Pow Wow East; and the name Lins Motor Lodge became Pow Wow because of the constant bashes they threw.

“We used to have great parties,” Ditto said, “and when we had a party, we’d call it a pow wow. Everybody knew it by the Pow Wow so we changed the name. I even had a poodle I called Pow Wow.

“Everything happened at the Pow Wow,” Ditto said, “so many family reunions, nightly entertainment, live music seven nights a week.”

The Pow Wow has since seen four other owners. The current owner of the motel is Daniel’s Construction, although Ditto continues her ownership of one of the apartment complexes where she lives.

In addition to the Pow Wow, Ditto said she has owned and operated a number of hotels throughout the state, including Albuquerque’s Sierra del Sol; Sante Fe’s Sheraton; Taos’ Kachina Lodge and Pendaries, located in Las Vegas, N.M.

“I fell in love with the hospitality industry,” Ditto said. “It was always fun. I met so many wonderful people,” she said, adding they continue to befriend her today.

And what about the politics?

“A few of my friends convinced me to run,” Ditto said of her City Commission seat. “I didn’t intend to get elected … I was 85 years old.”

After her first term is up in March, Ditto said she does not intend to run again.

“I’m too old,” said the woman who refused to retire 20 years ago at the age of 69. “I hope somebody will step forward and take over. I give a very special thank you to all of Tucumcari and their support of me.”

Many in the city thank her back.

“I just think she’s such an icon in Tucumcari,” Mayfield said. “Everybody in state politics knows Bettie. When I was riding with Gov. Richardson in the Rattler Parade, he waves (at the crowd) and says ‘There’s my friend Bettie.’ She has an impact on the community and an impact on the state. I never met anyone who was so positive and worked so hard,” the mayor said.

Ditto said she is glad she ended up sticking around. “Just think of all the good times and good fortune I would have missed,” she said.

Cast of characters

George Lins — Ditto’s dad, whom she said was a massive promoter of Route 66. He helped invent a new tourist era in 1940s Tucumcari with the Lins Motor Lodge and its “evaporative air condition rooms,” she said, the only “air cooled” rooms at the time.

Susan (Ditto) Ferguson and Matt Ferguson — Ditto’s daughter and son-in-law, whom she said lent a helping hand — with their own children — to the Pow Wow’s success.

Bob Ditto — Bettie Ditto’s son, whom she said was a great help to the business until he was killed in an accident in June of 1963. “It seemed my life came to an end that day,” Ditto said, “and nothing seemed important anymore.”

Agnes Lins — Ditto’s sister who came from Chicago to Tucumcari to aid with the family business in 1970. Ditto said she helped immensely while she was away tending to other business throughout the state.

John Farrell — owner of Farrell Lumber in Amarillo and Ditto’s business partner, whom she said helped build the Pow Wow into what it is today. Ditto said she partnered with Farrell for years achieving great success with hotels throughout the state. In addition to the Pow Wow, Ditto said Farrell helped build the Palomino Motel and 30 new homes in Tucumcari.

Rex Reeves — good banking friend of Ditto’s, whom she said helped secure a $50,000 loan from the Farmers and Stockmen’s Bank in Clayton for expansion in Pow Wow’s early history.