Lifelong San Martin resident Kenneth Ludewig, a local “treasure” who brought joy to countless South Valley residents as the creator and operator of the former San Martin Country Park & Pumpkin Patch, died unexpectedly on Nov. 7, according to family members. He was 74 years old.
Ludewig, often known as “Ken” or “Kenny,” will long be remembered by those who knew him as an inventor, musician and songwriter who enjoyed entertaining and bringing fun to everyone around him—from close family and friends to complete strangers of all ages. Generations of South County residents will remember the experiences their families enjoyed at the Country Park on Monterey Road, where Ludewig spent many years designing and building rides and attractions that left big smiles on those who visited.
“Imaginative and unconventional, he was known to transform bare fields into unique places to gather, including his personal field of dreams with a baseball diamond, and a model plane airstrip,” says an obituary written by Connie and Stephen Ludewig, Ken’s sister-in-law and brother. “In the spring, family and friends gathered at the area he had cleared for the annual bonfire. It was those times, when surrounded by his two treasured sons and others he loved, that he was most content.”
A trendsetter, Ken Ludewig built the “Old #9” train for the San Martin Christmas Tree Farm—an attraction that many visitor-friendly farms in the area have tried to duplicate in the years since. The train brought new life to the ranch’s old narrow gauge tracks that had been used to haul apricots and prunes from the orchard into dehydrators.
“I’ve got a life full of memories,” said Ken’s brother, Stephen Ludewig. “We were two brothers living on a ranch with our parents and our sister. We were like the ‘Little Rascals.’”
Ken Ludewig raised his sons Tache, 49, and Guy, 47, on the ranch, which was a paradise of fun and games for kids—with plenty of space to ride dirt bikes and play sports.
Ken Ludewig’s grandparents in 1918 purchased the former prune farm where the Country Park was later established. At least six generations of Ludewigs lived on the 30-acre ranch over the decades. In 1978, the Ludewigs—led by Ken’s father Leo—established the San Martin Christmas Tree Farm on a portion of the property.
Not long after that is when the family established the Country Park & Pumpkin Patch on the south side of the tree farm. Over the years, as operator of the site, Ken added more attractions to the park, starting with swings and swirly slides, and later adding a maze, the Giant Slingshot, Hayride Rollercoaster, Loose Caboose ride and the psychedelic tunnel through which train passengers wearing “laser shades” could witness a kaleidoscope of 10,000 colorful lights that he had installed himself, according to Connie Ludewig.
Also on the ranch, Ken established “The Barn” venue where hundreds of people celebrated birthdays and weddings and enjoyed a petting zoo and live concerts on the ranch, Connie added. The Greg Kihn Band and Jefferson Starship even played at the Ludewig venue.
The Country Park was created and operated by Ken and his former wife, Lynn.
The Ludewigs sold the farm and park property several years ago. That didn’t stop Ken from continuing to entertain people, spending countless hours in semi-retirement performing his guitar and harmonica for his grandchildren. He also took a part-time job at Casa de Fruta operating the carousel and performing magic tricks, Connie and Stephen Ludewig added.
“He was always full of ideas,” added Stephen, who recalls how Ken’s inventiveness dates back to early childhood. An old barn on the ranch was often filled with empty prune boxes, which the brothers used to build forts and underground tunnels. As children they even built a boat, which Ken tested successfully when a pasture on the farm flooded one winter.
“I thought he was brilliant,” added Connie Ludewig. “Stephen was telling me, as far back as he can remember (Ken) was always thinking of something to create.”
Longtime family friend Joe Audisio has fond memories of Ken and the Ludewig Ranch. His family emigrated to the U.S. from Italy when Audisio was a child, settling in San Martin where the Ludewigs were among the first people he met.
He recalls both Ken and Stephen as children welcoming him and doing their best to make him feel at home in an otherwise strange new place.
“Kenneth was a very good hearted man, and he was like a big kid himself,” Audisio said. “And he enjoyed making other people happy.”
Ken’s nephew, Tom Gwinn, grew up with Tache and Guy and “almost lived at (their) house every weekend.” He used to ride his bicycle to the San Martin ranch from his home in Morgan Hill. Under careful but encouraging supervision from Ken Ludewig, the ranch was the scene of many “firsts” for Gwinn—riding a dirt bike and driving a pickup truck by himself among them.
“He was always the fun uncle,” Gwinn said. “We would camp out in the fields behind the house. I spent a lot of time with his kids. He would take us to the movie theater, to the beach to boogie board, and take us up to the snow. He meant a lot to us.”
In a 2005 story in this newspaper about the San Martin Country Park & Pumpkin Patch, Ken Ludewig said, “I like doing what I do because it’s creative. I like making people happy and hopefully, in the process, I make money too. Most of all, I really enjoy what I do. I can’t wait to get here each day. I feel good about adding something new each year.”
Kenneth Ludewig is survived by his two sons and his “treasured grandchildren”—Justin, Haley, Westley, William, Emma, Autumn and Adia—and his brother, Stephen Ludewig, and sister, Susan McNew.
The family is planning to host a celebration of Kenneth’s life in spring of 2023.