By Chelle Delaney: Freedom New Mexico
Former Tucumcari Mayor Mary Mayfield called her “an icon.”
Others knew her as “Mrs. Tucumcari.”
Margaret “Bettie” Ditto, a Tucumcari leader and city promoter for six decades, died on Saturday at age 91.
The cause of death was not immediately known, but friends said her health had been failing in recent months.
Mayfield said Ditto dedicated her life to a better Tucumcari.
“It would be hard to judge the impact that she has had on so many people,” Mayfield said. “She was well known throughout the state. In fact, I don’t believe that Bettie ever met a stranger.”
A former city commissioner and real estate developer, she is perhaps best known for building the Pow Wow Inn into one of the city’s focal points and a popular stop on historic Route 66.
She remained a driving force in the community well into her 80s. She was elected to the City Commission at 85. At 89, she was ambassador and volunteer at the Tucumcari/Quay County Chamber of Commerce.
And her influence went beyond the city as she was well known among lawmakers in Santa Fe and even Washington, D.C.
“While serving as mayor for the city of Tucumcari, I would visit Santa Fe on business, and Gov. Bill Richardson would always ask how his friend Bettie Ditto was doing,” Mayfield said.
Senators and representatives in Washington often called her by her first name, Mayfield said.
“She was a good lady. We’re going to miss her,” said Jim Lafferty, who won the District 5 City Commission seat after Ditto decided not to seek re-election in 2006.
“She was extremely helpful. She brought me box after box of information about the city. Even though she wasn’t serving on the commission, she’d call me weekly to talk about city business, until her health failed.”
Lafferty said she also took Tucumcari’s message statewide and to Santa Fe. For example, she served as Tucumcari’s liaison with the state’s film agency.
People who would pass through Tucumcari and stay at the Pow Wow would always ask for Bettie because she was such a gracious hostess, Mayfield said.
One of her most noteworthy accomplishments was the construction of the Pow Wow.
Ditto was 39 when she came to Tucumcari from Chicago in 1955, she told the Quay County Sun in 2005.
She said she was not intending to stay when she inherited Route 66’s Lins Motor Lodge after her father’s death.
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.
“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 many parties 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.”
In addition to the Pow Wow, Ditto owned hotels throughout the state.
“I fell in love with the hospitality industry,” Ditto said in 2005. “It was always fun. I met so many wonderful people,” she said.
Ditto also 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.
She was born Sept. 14, 1916 in Arcola, Ill., the youngest of four children.
She is survived by a daughter Susan Hamilton-Dick of Portales, grandchildren, Mark Hardage of Conchas, Robert Ferguson of West Fork, Ark., Ashley Christian of Amarillo, Texas, Kemberly Downs of Amarillo, John Beasley of Frasier, Colo. and Ryan Hamilton of Dalhart, Texas, seven great-grandchildren and two great-great granchildren. She was preceeded in death by a son, Bob Ditto.
At 7 p.m. Thursday a rosary will be recited at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Tucumcari. At 2 p.m. Friday a Mass of Rescurrection will be celebrated at St. Anne’s. Burial will follow at Tucumcari Park Memorial Cemetery.
Quay County Sun staff writer Thomas Garcia contributed to this report.