Both Ottie and Clara know and understand the importance of hard work and education. And while Ottie’s story is more dramatic, there are similarities in both their backgrounds. Both were born in small towns, graduated from high school, went to college and were successful in their careers.
Ottie was born in Cordell, Oklahoma, in 1936, in the middle of the decade-long drought known as the Dust Bowl. When he was two, second youngest of five children and the only boy, Ottie’s father died. Ottie’s mother remarried, but the stepfather’s brutality soon forced the children to move in with a loving aunt and uncle, sharecroppers, who raised them.
Ottie worked very hard on the farm planting and harvesting crops. He went on his first wheat harvest, cutting wheat from Oklahoma to the Canadian border, when he was only nine. During the summers of his teen years, he continued to cut wheat, and the money he saved helped pay for him to attend Oklahoma State University. He worked throughout college and was active in campus politics, leadership and his fraternity. He joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and its flight training program to earn more money. As an Army pilot, he flew in Southeast Asia and ultimately ended up At Ft. Lewis in Lakewood.
Ottie married and entered the family business, the Original Pancake House. He worked for his father-in-law, at first as a host, and then mastered every job in the restaurant from cook to dishwasher, understanding that he had to know how to do something before asking someone else to do it. Through this process, Ottie learned the importance of and respect for every job. He has led by example throughout his lifetime. The family business expanded to Kentucky Fried Chicken. He soon owned and operated KFC stores in Pierce County, Spokane and Idaho.
In 1972 Ottie joined Tacoma Rotary #8 and was elected president in 1984. Rotary has been a huge part of Ottie’s life and has honed his commitment to leadership and community service. Ottie has also served as president of the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, and in leadership positions at Greater Lakes Mental Health, Allenmore Hospital Foundation, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Washington State Historical Society, and Lakewold Gardens.
Ottie introduced a profit-sharing plan for his employees in 1972, a bold move for a fast food franchise at that time. Not only was Ottie looking out for his own future, but for the future of his employees as they became vested in and profited from the operation.
Clara is from West Liberty, Kentucky, and graduated from the University of Kentucky. She worked in several public relations and communications positions in Louisville, St. Louis and finally in Edmonds, Washington, where she was vice president of corporate communications for Premera Blue Cross. She retired when she and Ottie married, and she has been active in Lakewood and Pierce County community organizations, especially those that focus on women’s and children’s needs: the YWCA of Pierce County, the Fund for Women and Girls, the Emergency Food Network, Goodwill Industries Foundation and the Lakewood Community Foundation.
Both Ottie and Clara have never ceased giving back to the community. They believe we should be a proactive society instead of a reactive one. By establishing the Ottie and Clara Ladd Great Futures Fund, they will continue to emphasize to young people the value and importance of education and working as a means to succeed in life.