Ashley Doolittle, murdered rodeo queen, remembered as kind, funny
August 11, 2016
The crowning of a new rodeo queen is a tradition at the Boulder Valley Fair and Rodeo. There is an exchange of ceremonial chaps, the passing of a crown.
This year, though, the chaps and sash were draped over the saddle of a horse with no rider. The crown that would have been passed to 2016 Lady-in-Waiting Ashley Doolittle was handed, instead, to her mother.
Doolittle was not present for her coronation. Nearly two months earlier, the 18 year old was shot and killed. Her ex-boyfriend, with whom she had recently broken up, admitted to the murder and now faces charges.
That is not to suggest Doolittle was not present at the ceremony. The impressions she left on those who knew her ran deep.
Mikaela Kugel, the 2016 Rodeo Queen remembers Doolittle as a happy person who loved playing practical jokes.
"Ashley was the funniest person I knew," Kugel said.
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Kugel told of an incident last year when she had developed Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, shingles on the ears and face.
"Ashley wore a whipped cream mustache to cheer me up," Kugel said.
Julia Davis, royalty coordinator and president of the fair board, called Doolittle the kindest person she'd met in a while. She walked the fairgrounds with a badge depicting Doolittle pinned to her shirt.
"She was such an asset to this program," Davis said.
Davis said she met Doolittle when the teen first tried out for the Lady-in-Waiting and got to know her well.
"She placed second," Davis said. "I told her she needed to try again. This time she placed first."
A decision was going to have to be made, Davis said, when the news reached them that "Ashley was gone," words Davis settled on after stumbling over a few words suggesting death.
None of them were coming easy.
Davis said she consulted with other rodeo royalty and her committee before reaching that decision.
There would be no lady-in-waiting or rodeo queen to step into Doolittle's shoes.
"We decided that 2017 was going to be Ashley's year," Davis said. "It's the right thing to do."
Davis explained that rodeo royalty are the most visible ambassadors of the fair and rodeo.
"They attend functions and talk about 4-H and the fair and the western way of life in an age that's more urban than rural," Davis said. "They carry the flags into the arena during the rodeo's opening ceremonies in what we call the 'Grand Entry.'"
During Sunday's Grand Entry, Doolittle's saddle was empty, her horse rider-less in a sad acceptance of a tragedy, but a strong statement that Doolittle would not be forgotten or set aside.
The decision not to name a new queen means Sidney Postle, 16, Boulder Valley's incoming Lady-in-Waiting, would not have the guidance of the Rodeo Queen as they performed their duties.
"Six contestants entered knowing they would be by themselves," Davis said.
According to Davis, rodeo royalty are expected to give something to the program. Doolittle's hope was to create a rodeo princess program for girls between 13 and 15, something she hoped would foster a love of rodeo in young girls. Friday, two girls were chosen to be the first princesses in the program.
Amber Nusser is one of those princesses. Sitting tall on the back of a horse, she talked about Doolittle's influence on those coming up behind her.
"She treated everyone with the same enthusiasm," Nusser said. "She was an open person. She would hear your opinion and not just give hers. She was never not fun to be around."
Rhonda Johnson, a project leader at Doolittle's 4-H club remembered Doolittle as a hard working member of the club, someone who was always moving forward.
"She's been in 4-H since she was about 9 years old," Johnson said. "She's ridden several breeds of horse. She was last year's English-style grand champion for levels three and four."
Johnson said other members of the club looked to Doolittle as a mentor.
"One of the boys told me she talked to him as an equal, not like he was just some stupid 14 year old," Johnson said.
Johnson set up a GoFundMe page to help Doolittle's mother, who remains involved with club and rodeo, offset the inevitable expenses that come with losing a family member. So far, more than $21,000 has come in, some donations with notes from those who remember Doolittle well.
The princess program Doolittle wanted has been named for her. For the club and the rodeo, Doolittle's loss is keenly felt.
Kugel said there are good days and bad days, but that Doolittle would have wanted them to go on living. It's the kind of person she was.
"Not matter what was happening, she was trying to put a smile on your face," Kugel said. ❖