Like any of us, the Johnny True you know today is the sum of all my past actions, circumstances and events in my life. A rundown of my accomplishments both personally and professionally may leave you with a sense of knowing me – who I am, what I am about. But there is always more to a man than what may be listed on a sheet of paper; there is also our heritage – our family roots and where that family come from. And yet, there is still more to me than that. A background and family history does not define me as an individual any more than my accomplishments may; it is yet just another brick in the wall, helping to pull together the story of my life.
John Ira True was the name I was born with and will die with too – but, for 53 years of my life I was referred to by another. I was born on October 5, 1946, in the Oregon State Mental Hospital in Salem, Oregon to a troubled young mother, just 19 years of age. Two days after my birth, I came to live at Albertina Kerr Adoption Center in Portland. At the age of six, and after living with a foster family for four years, John Ira True became John Rodger Hendrickson, at the signing of adoption papers. It would be 40 more years before I would come to meet my biological family and, soon thereafter, find a distinct change in myself.
I come from cowboy stock; there are no two ways around it. Those who came to know me in my business heyday and sporting times see a man reborn, someone who they may have never known existed before; as even I may not have known myself. But make no mistake, inbred into my genes are horses, manual labor and sidearms. In discovering my family – and even myself – I have simply returned to my roots.
The True family – my grandparents – migrated to Oregon from South Dakota in 1924. Poor farmers with little money, they pushed west as many did at the time to find promises of a new life on the rich abundant soil of the Pacific Northwest.
With their two faithful German Shepards, four strong farming horses and six children, Abraham Frederick True and his young wife, Artha Jane Kidd, twelve years his junior, set down roots in Ontario, Oregon, east of the Blue Mountains. The previous ten years had found them hopping from Kansas to Missouri to the Dakotas, farming land along the way, in search of a place that they might someday call home.
“Home” was not merely a house in the eyes of Abraham and Artha; it had become an intangible entity to them as they jumped from state to state. They hoped to find a place to settle their family for life, a place that offered an answer to the question, “Where are you from?”
Each state brought more children to the True family and, in turn, more expenses, oftentimes forcing the clan down the road to the next farm available for rent and toil. Oregon brought them their next house, place of employment and, finally, gave the True family a real, honest-to-God home.
Living on a rented farm and working the land of another supported the family, but just barely. While food was never scarce, money certainly was and the life they lived was a tough one of fierce expectations of long days toiling the earth, seeding the ground and caring for the animals. No one was exempt from taking part in running the farm, no matter their age.
My father, Ira Leroy True, seemed to believe otherwise. Born the second of four boys, and the third child in line of the total, Ira had worked his hand on a bevy of rented farms his entire 17 years before he began to question the authority of his father. Soon he allowed his eyes to wander down the empty road to anywhere for the first time in his life – but certainly not the last. Where the other True children had accepted their life responsibilities without question, Ira had a rebellious and impetuous spirit, restless to be out in the great wide emptiness of a cowboy’s trail.