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‘Cactus’ John’s positivity an asset to Roswell

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Pictured are John and Sharon Drusedum, whose restored chuckwagon has appeared at events ranging from Cowboy Days at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum to Old Lincoln Days. It is registered with the American Chuck Wagon Association. (Submitted Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Amy Lignor
Special to the Daily Record

Born and raised in a small suburb of Philadelphia, John Drusedum is the eldest of four siblings who still call the Northeast home. His career began in the armed services.

“My draft number was fairly high during the Vietnam War, but I enlisted in the U.S. Navy, as had my father and uncles before me,” Drusedum said. “After six years active duty (4 1/2 served on the USS John F. Kennedy, CV-67), having attained the rank of Petty Officer 1st Class, I left for what was then big money in the computer industry.”

At that time, the computer industry was growing by the minute and Drusedum signed on with a company out of Rhode Island as a service technician, thinking he would land back in Pennsylvania somewhere. But just six weeks later, he found himself working in Dallas, Texas.

“The only person I knew in all of Texas was a former shipmate and good friend,” he said. “On a weekend visit with my friend, I met the woman who would later become my wife, Sharon Bennett (a Roswell-area native).”

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Before landing in Roswell, John, Sharon and their two girls moved to the Oklahoma City area where he completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees and was ordained while working full-time at a local church as the worship and youth pastor.

In 2003, Drusedum said, after a visit to Roswell, “We determined it would be best for us to return and help Sharon’s parents as needed, and I took a position serving for the next 10 years with Grace Community Church.”

Drusedum was also intrigued by The Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium (now called, The All American Cowboy Fest) held at Ruidoso Downs. “We’d actually enjoyed a program focusing on their cook-off on the Food Network and, after we moved back, we attended,” he said. “Chuckwagon meals were sold out, but we visited several of the wagons and discovered that we actually knew people on a few of the crews.”

His interest in wagons grew from “meeting” up with others equally interested in them.

“We were actively looking for a potential wagon for sale, and a friend called to tell us she’d seen one on Craig’s List,” he said. “We connected at Ft. Seldon State Park with the wagon’s owner and restorer, and a few weeks later, it arrived in Roswell.”

The backstory: The wagon was found in a barn near High Rolls. Purchased in the 1800s from the Indiana-Lafayette Wagon Co., it was used as a line wagon, for fence repair, etc., on Oliver Lee’s Circle Cross Ranch near Alamogordo before being converted into a chuckwagon.

“Oliver was a rancher from Texas and eventually became a state senator,” Drusedum said. “The Oliver Lee State Park is situated just south of Alamogordo.”

Ever since, the wagon has appeared at many events, from the Cowboy Days at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces to Old Lincoln Days in Lincoln, and many locations in between. Now registered with the American Chuck Wagon Association, it is recognized as the 65th historical wagon in the U.S. with a “crew” that John says encompasses “all of Roswell.”

But his interests did not stop there; the Lonely Goat Ranch was another.

“In the 1950s,” Drusedum said, “E.J. Bennett purchased several acres on West Pine Lodge Road. Contained on the property was a small house, several outbuildings and corrals. Over the years the house was expanded and E.J. Bennett referred to it as ‘the old goat camp,’ most likely due to the abundance of goathead weeds on the property. Enduring a fire in the early 2000s that completely gutted the house, E.J. used his retirement to clean it up.”

When the chuckwagon came into their lives and was taken to educational events and competitions, Drusedum knew they needed to have it affiliated with a ranch name, settling on the Lonely Goat Ranch.

“Sharon’s grandfather had taken out a cattle brand for the stock his family owned near a small town once located northeast of Tatum,” he said. “It was the Circle V (a circle with a V contained within). When we researched brands, it was no longer available, but we were able to acquire the quarter-circle V … The V reminded us of the head of a goat. We inherited the property, built a home there, have planted a number of fruit trees, and still work to this day refurbishing the old homestead.”

Along the way, he’s come to be known by the memorable name “Cactus” John Drusedum.

For those who wonder how “Cactus” came to be, it’s quite simple, he said.

“Chuckwagon cooks were often called by a nickname, like ‘Cookie,’” Drusedum said. “With the abundance of cactus on our property, it was fitting I became ‘Cactus’ John.”

When it comes to the community, Drusedum is an active member of the Roswell Rotary Club, a group that helps Roswell in all ways.

“Moving from in-person to online meetings, it’s a different time, but Rotary Clubs are still creating a positive impact. An interesting spin to meeting online is anyone can join us,” he said. “We’ve even had former (Rotary) Youth Exchange students attend from their home country, which opens up potential international projects, as well.

“Recently, several clubs came together to provide aid for the Navajo Nation by providing food, clothing, medical supplies, etc. to respond to the COVID situation there,” he continued. “And locally, Roswell Rotary has provided several scholarships for graduating seniors, volunteered hours with the local Habitat for Humanity project, provided trees and fencing for our local zoo, and have future projects in the works. We like to say Rotary is where neighbors, friends and problem-solvers share ideas, join leaders, and take action to create lasting change.”

Drusedum said he is excited about what the future holds.

“As we diversify and grow our economy, focus on educating future generations and more, we’ll have our share of ‘growing pains’ as we increase in number, and we’ll continue learning to truly care for each other through this process,” he said.