Ron Ball from Estes Park returns to the NWSS Wild West Show
The National Western Stock Show (NWSS) is all about occupations, traditions, lifestyles and values steeped in the history of the American West. Cowboys were an integral part of its past and they’re just as important to its present. So when the stock show searched for someone to musically entertain large crowds at its own popular Wild West Show, it looked for the real deal.
Ron Ball from Estes Park is the real deal.
Growing up in Denver during the 1930s and 1940s, Ball always dreamed of being a cowboy. His ambitions to make it happen were sparked by the 1946 film version of Will James’ Smoky the Cowhorse. That and Roy Rogers. Anything related to Roy Rogers was good enough for Ball, and as a youngster he began singing Roy Rogers songs and playing the guitar. His cowboy aspirations and love of horses took him to his first job away from home, wrangling horses for a dude ranch in Wyoming in 1949 at the young age of 13. That wasn’t a daunting prospect to Ball, that was just part of making his dreams come true.
“I was horse crazy all my life and I wanted to be a cowboy,” recalled the soft-spoken Ball as he answered questions by telephone. “My dad was a singer, Roy (Rogers) was a singer. My grandmother was an artist, Will James was an author and an artist. I just kind of put it all together in one persona, there,” he explained of his artistic talents regarding the west. “I wanted to be a real singing cowboy artist.”
While he honed those talents, Ball also learned the craft of being a cowboy.
“I started wrangling horses in Wyoming (for three years) and then moved closer to home to a dude ranch in Grand Lake. The ranch I worked at was Onahu Ranch. I worked there for three years. We had our own rodeo every Sunday, so I rode bareback horses and steers – we didn’t have bulls – and roped calves and barrel raced.”
1955 saw Ball join the Marines for four years before becoming a Los Angeles policeman for another 20. He never lost his love of being a cowboy, however, and that passion showed through in his artistic endeavors.
“When I was in the police dept., I started selling paintings to other officers until I had a long list of (people waiting for one),” remembered Ball about keeping his western creative spirit alive. “I was also doing art shows and cowboy poetry and music gatherings.”
It was during his policeman stint that Ball finally met his boyhood idol, Roy Rogers, while working security at a parade. It was a conversation branded into the Colorado cowboy’s memory.
“I shunted him off away from the other (policemen) a little bit and told him I’d been singing his music since I was 10-years-old,” recollected Ball. “(I also told him) I entertained at ranches, and that I was a cowboy artist, and that I had been a big fan of his growing up. I didn’t see him again for three or four years … he didn’t remember my name but he remembered that I was a Los Angeles cop and that I sang his music and that I was an artist, which really impressed me that he would remember me at all.”
Those meetings led Ball to warm relationships with the Rogers family that he maintains to this day.
“Roy Rogers was a lot more to me than a movie star,” said Ball with conviction. “The man himself was exactly what he purported to be and so is his son and his grandson, who I am also friends with now.”
It is that “Roy Rogers” code of values and humble approach to art and song that shine through in everything Ball does, and it is a big reason why the NWSS approached him to be a part of its Wild West Show in 2010.
“We had known of Mr. Ball because he had sang the national anthem for us at some rodeos over the last several years,” explained Marvin Witt, NWSS VP of Operations. “We were looking for somebody to do that. We had looked for Nashville artists and people that had records out (and) my co-partner in the rodeo, Leon Vick, said, gosh, why do you want to go that far away? Because we had Ron sitting up here in Estes Park. He was the real deal. He did a great job.”
Performing at the NWSS was another part of fulfilling Ball’s cowboy dreams, since the stock show had been part of his life for more than 60 years.
“I started going to the stock show in 1948,” said Ball about his passion for the Denver-based event. “I would ride the street car that cost a nickel and general admission was a dollar. You’d go in three or four hours early and find a spot along the fence and you’d stand there until the rodeo started and stand there through the rodeo so you could see, and I went there every night.”
Asked about the feeling of performing cowboy songs in front of thousands at his boyhood NWSS stomping grounds, the humble cowboy struggled to describe the emotional impact.
“It’s great,” he said, while pausing to search for better words. “I am more honored than anything to have been asked and be able to do it.”
“This thing at the stock show has been very special to him,” said Ball’s wife, Jane. “He is so excited about this that they even want him. It’s a big thing for him. It’s really more than ‘great’ for him, but I think he can’t come up with a word and neither can I.”
Maybe the best description of how nice it is for Ball to be asked to perform again in the 2012 NWSS Wild West Show and why the NWSS wants him to return was another description provided by Jane of her husband and cowboy hero.
“He’s a true cowboy from top to bottom and always has been,” she said with devotion. “He’s real. He’s not fake about anything. He is the most wonderful man in the world.”