LUDLOW, Ky. -- “I recruit people to move here. That’s part of my job."
Matt “Catfish” Williams, a councilmember in Ludlow, has called the Northern Kentucky town home since 2011. “I’ve gotten, like, seven or eight friends to buy houses here," he said.
Catfish’s enthusiasm about his adoptive hometown truly is contagious. He grew up in Delhi, earned his nickname because he did a lot of fishing there as a boy, and moved to Ludlow from Mainstrasse in Covington.
“We really lucked out when we moved here with the community that was already here,” he says. “Just the whole vibe of the city and the history is incredible.”
As a newly minted councilmember and owner of the popular Folk School Coffee Parlor (where Jerry Springer hosts a regular podcast), Williams has a lot of irons in the fire. Some of his plans involve traditional city politics and working to grow Ludlow in a conscientious way. Others simply reflect a desire to help residents get outdoors and feel more connected with their surroundings.
“Ludlow is a quiet little country town that happens to be five minutes from downtown,” said Williams. “We’re not trying to change that or experience the same gentrification as places like OTR. We love Ludlow for what it is and we want to show that to everyone else.”
Williams moved to Ludlow at the behest of close friend and public arts advocate Mike Amann, who passed away in 2013 from a rare form of neuroendocrine cancer. Next month, Williams will co-host the third installment of the Curveball Classic, a Wiffle ball tournament created in Amann’s memory.
“At Mike’s funeral, his wife read his last journal entry and it was full of baseball metaphors,” said Williams. “So, we thought this would be a great way to honor him.”
The Curveball Classic will take place in Ludlow on Sept. 23, featuring local music, food and beer trucks and five-person Wiffle ball teams competing all day in two divisions: family-friendly and competitive. Festivities will also include a home-run derby to benefit Ludlow public schools’ Shine and Soar afterschool programs.
The tournament will be free for spectators; competing teams pay a $100 entry fee, with proceeds benefiting Ludlow’s parks -- another pet cause for Williams.
“Parks is one of our least funded departments here in Ludlow,” said Williams. “Most money goes to fire, police and other stuff. At the very bottom of what’s leftover is parks, so we’re always looking for ways to raise money for things like shelters and indoor bathrooms.”
An outdoor enthusiast, Williams was excited to bring Ludlow online as a pilot neighborhood for last year’s LiveWell NKY initiative. The program was designed by Skyward, former stewards of the myNKY regional plan, and focused on civic measures for improving residential health -- things like increasing the availability of fresh produce and encouraging outdoor activity. Skyward has since disbanded, casting uncertainty on the future of LiveWell NKY, but Williams sees no reason to abandon the core goals of the initiative.
“Our original plan was to use (LiveWell) grant money to build raised beds at the senior center and then take cuttings from those gardens and spread them around Ludlow, creating something of an ‘edible city,’ ” said Williams. “We’re still working to make that happen, even with the LiveWell program in limbo. We’re hoping another group will pick up the funding part.”
Williams has long been a proponent of efforts to introduce Ludlow’s school-age kids to concepts like foraging, gardening and healthy cooking.
“The trick is to get them excited about planting food and watching it grow before they become rowdy teenagers,” said Williams. “That way, maybe they’ll feel more connected and less destructive toward community gardens. They’ll have a different take on it. But we can’t force that. They have to feel inspired to make that connection on their own.”
Later this year, Williams will co-host an event that celebrates yet another of his interests: the history of the Ludlow Lagoon amusement park that occupied much of the city from 1895 to 1917 and served as one of the biggest attractions in the country.
This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the park’s closing -- a closing that came about in dramatic fashion, following a series of catastrophic events including flood, tornado and a deadly fire sparked by a motorcycle crash. Williams and other members of the Ludlow Historical Society will mark the occasion with food, games, trivia and other events to commemorate the park’s foundational influence on Ludlow's growth and position in Greater Cincinnati.
“The lagoon park is just one aspect of Ludlow’s insane history,” said Williams. “For such a small town, we have a huge amount of great history and a huge number of people who want to make sure people know about it.”
Look for more details on the Ludlow Lagoon anniversary party in WCPO Insider next month.