“I’m going to have a party, and I sure want you to be here.”
All-around cowboy Ernie Love of Manhattan expressed that welcome in a call during June.
No date was set for the cowboy-fun-affair, but Love grief-in-voice revealed sad-news that doctors had diagnosed terminal cancer.
“I’m not afraid of dying, but I’m going to miss all of my friends. So, I want to have one last real-cowboy-party,” said Love, who had overcome an earlier illness bout.
However, intuition told Love this time was far worse. Health deteriorated, despite never depleting pleasantness with his forever-ornery-grin and cowboy-optimism, but that party as Love envisioned it never materialized.
Ernie Love passed away on July 22, at his ranch home with family and friends at his side.
However, when his passing became imminent, Love had detailed to his loving-wife, Kathy, that he didn’t want a funeral, nor to be put away in a box. But, rather there was to be a party, with all of his friends there, and his remains were to be spread across the prairie.
Recent memorial services as a Celebration of Life, despite the soberness within, was the party Ernie Love wanted.
Acquaintances in all walks from throughout the country gathered at a local steakhouse with an open bar while cowboy musicians entertained.
Those present had no doubt that Ernie Love was there too in spirit grinning, nodding, tapping his boot, strumming his guitar and joining the chorus.
Terry “Bull” Bullock, who had spent many hours team-truck-driving with Love, officiated the memorial.
Citing scripture, Bullock emphasized the spiritualism within Love as evidenced by his appreciation for people, livestock and all of nature, forever nurturing one and all.
Bullock told of Love reflecting about “dying after a wreck with a horse.” Reciting the beauty he saw and felt in the hereafter, Love “came back to this life, because there was more to do here.”
Certainly, that was true, from the reflections about Ernie Love’s life as a rodeo champion, working cowboy, family man, musician, mentor to many and “jack-of-all-trades.”
His biography has been briefed in recent weeks, but some recollections of those who knew Love best merit retelling.
A veterinary recalled the first time he’d met Love, who’d called for assistance in doctoring cattle. Love assured the good doctor that he had the critters gathered, and sure enough, they were cornered in a big pasture.
“Ernie would ride into the herd, rope one, throw a trip on it, and expected me to be there ready to treat the critter before it got up,” remembered the veterinarian. “I learned a lot about handling livestock and about life from Ernie Love.”
A friend qualified, “There are a lot of people who want to be cowboys, but I have not known many who were ‘real cowboys.’ They must have walked the walk, talked the talk and have the scraps to prove it. Ernie Love was a cowboy.
“I don’t believe there was a bull Ernie wouldn’t try, nor a bronc he couldn’t ride, a steer he couldn’t catch, nor a calf he couldn’t tie.
“There isn’t an arena in Kansas where Ernie hasn’t won a bull riding, a bronc riding or a wild cow milking.”
His ability was further verified, when “Ernie called me to help catch a steer a neighbor couldn’t get captured. That steer didn’t run ten steps until Ernie roped him, and 20 seconds later he was in the trailer.”
Love was a businessman. “After agreeing to gather a man’s bull out of a pasture for $100, Ernie arrived early, and when the owner got there, Ernie had the bull in the trailer.
“The owner tried to renege, arguing that it ‘wasn’t that hard to get the bull in after all,’ and wasn’t going to pay the agreed price. Ernie said, ‘Sure you are,’ as he opened the trailer and let the bull out.
“The owner hollered, ‘Don’t turn him out, I’ll pay.’ Ernie said, ‘Sure you will, but now the price is $200 paid up front.’ Then, Ernie loaded the bull again.”
Recognition of Ernie Love’s abilities came with his posthumous induction into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame at Dodge City, as dozens of family and friends were in attendance, far more than those represented for any of the other four honorees.
A grin spread over Love’s face when told of the forthcoming induction just a short time before his passing.
During the memorial, a video about Love, compiled by Kathy and his step-daughters, Wendy Murphy and Marilyn Ortega, was shown as the band played with Ernie’s sons: Dale (aka Cowboy), ‘Little’ Ernie, and Neil joining in.
Love’s ashes will be spread across the Flint Hills next spring. Memorials can be made to the Ernie M. Love Scholarship Fund, Kathy Love, 9555 Mount Zion Road, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502.