When Marvin Witt’s parents asked him about his life goals, the North Dakota highschooler said he wanted to work at either the National Western Stock Show in Denver or the Houston Livestock Show in Texas.
“Some kids read comic books. Some kids read Sports Illustrated,” Witt said. “I used to take all the livestock journals and I used to look at the pictures of all the shows.”
Roughly 50 years later, Mead, Colo., resident Witt has recently retired from his position as vice president of operations for National Western after 22 shows in Denver.
He says he’s looking forward to this year’s show, which gets going full speed this weekend, as he’ll have the chance to enjoy being a spectator and reminiscing with peers.
“I hope to sit down and visit, get to see people and just go back to where I started in 1972, just to relive that,” he said. “It’s a full circle in my career.”
Witt said he’s always had a passion for agriculture, growing up in 4-H and Future Farmers of America, and his classmates called him “Mr. Agriculture,” as he learned at a high school reunion. He managed the fairgrounds in Fargo, N.D., helped build the Big Iron Farm show in that state, and helped build Georgia’s state fair from the ground up before National Western legend Chuck Sylvester asked him to join the National Western in Denver in 1991.
“It got in my blood,” he said. “This was my opportunity to give back to agriculture, being involved with national shows like National Western Stock Show, the Georgia National Fair, Big Iron. I think it’s one of the more important things in our country, the preservation of agriculture.”
Originally, Sylvester brought in Witt to help build a new equine center. Throughout his tenure, Witt said he worked on many aspects of the business, including sponsorship, exhibits, and more recently the planning and development of horse and livestock shows, building a lifetime of wonderful memories.
“My favorite was the growth pattern that happened at the National Western,” Witt said. “My first year at the National Western, we had 23 ticketed performances, and that was all (Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association) rodeos. Last year, we had 43 ticketed performances.”
Looking back, Witt said he’s most proud of his contributions to some of the successful additions to the show, which he worked on with Sylvester. He said among the dearest to him are the “Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza,” “An Evening of Dancing Horses,” freestyle reigning, “Super Dogs” and the Colorado versus the world team event.
Witt said his family rarely took vacations when he was a child, but they “never missed a state fair,” and he remembers being enamored with the draft horses on display in Canadian stock shows. He said he still loves watching the draft horses at the stock show in Denver, which he said was reintroduced in 1982.
Also close to Witt’s heart is the “Wild West Show.” He said the show focuses on points in Western history, like Chief Joseph and the Trail of Tears, where the leader of the Nez Perce uttered the words, “I will fight no more, forever.”
“You want to do things like this because they don’t teach all of this in the schools, but it’s an important part of who we are.”
Heading into this year’s stock show, Witt said it’ll be a family event, with his son and son-in-law both showing livestock. His wife, Jody, is a general manager at a Denver Mariott, which attracts many of the show’s attendees. His grandchildren will also participate, he said.
Witt retired last July, and he said he’s looking forward to traveling to some historical places and to other shows to stay in touch with the many friends he’s made over the years.
“It’s time for new ideas, new blood and to bring it to new levels,” he said. “It was just time to move on, and I’m kinda looking forward to this year.” ❖