Obituary: Ernest (Ernie) Orval Brown, Jr
Oct. 27, 1926 — Nov. 28, 2021
In the early morning of Nov. 28, Ernest (Ernie) Orval Brown, Jr. raced into the arms of his Savior with great joy, and it was while he was in that embrace that he looked over Jesus’ shoulder and saw his Jo, waiting for him with her shining brown eyes. Prince Charming to this fairy tale marriage had finally arrived Home.
Ernie was born on Oct. 27, 1926, to Ernest Orval Brown, Sr and Ida Marie (Funk) Brown in Dodge City, Kansas. “Junior” grew up in Hugoton, Kansas, as a typical ornery small-town Kansas kid, stealing watermelons and eggs and shooting bb guns at snakes. His mother, although living on a shoestring, was a very charitable woman, and there were always relatives moving in to finish their schooling. There was no room, and no money, but they were welcomed in as if there were. Undoubtedly, this was where he learned about kindness and sharing and giving whatever you had. He participated in track and football and basketball at Hugoton High School and graduated in 1943.
Anxious to join up during World War II, he enlisted in the Navy, where this flatlander saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time and became acquainted with one of his lifelong loves — shrimp! Ernie became a technician working on a new tracking concept called a “radar” and spent his time on the ships working mainly below decks in the radar room, but he had plenty of time to explore in the Philippines and Shanghai.
Upon his discharge in 1946, Ernie went back to Hugoton, not sure what to do from there. He saw Jo Jones, who he had last remembered as a skinny, plain farm kid a few years behind him, who had transformed into a beautiful young woman, and he begged her to go out on a date. Eleven months later, on June 21, 1947, Ernie and Jo married and soon moved to Denver, where Ernie attended Denver University on the GI Bill, majoring in accounting. The GI Bill paid for schooling, but nothing else, and they lived in a tiny 8-by-16 foot trailer in Englewood, getting around on a scooter in both summer and winter weather. It was into this tiny home that they brought their first daughter, Cathy Marie.
Ernie graduated from DU, and was offered a job as an accountant for Phillips 66 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where daughters Elaine and Barbara, and finally, a son, Michael were brought home. Ernie realized that bean counting was not what he wanted to do, so he applied for and was transferred to Denver where he was a regional representative. The company, seeing the value in this hard-working, friendly young man started transferring him to new locations — first to Lamar, Colorado, then El Paso, Texas, then Dumas, Texas, before Jo said “ENOUGH!” and they moved briefly back to Lamar. Jo and Ernie fell in love with the mountains and began looking for the right opportunity for them.
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Ernie found an opportunity to buy in a Gulf Oil gas station, located where the Main Vail roundabout is now. He moved the family to Vail in August, 1969. Ernie ran the business for two years but tired of driving up the 2-lane Vail Pass to help put chains on car and truck tires at 2 in the morning at sub-zero temps, so began searching for another niche that needed filling in the valley.
He did not want to move everyone again, and failure was not an option. He realized there was a big need for auto supply parts in the valley, and Mountain High NAPA Auto Supply was born. The company was a busy success, but Ernie always found time to attend every sporting or extracurricular activity that all his children participated in, and he became “Dad” to many kids, who rode with him to neighboring towns to get to sporting events.
During that time, he was putting kids through college and supporting his mother, when Ernie and Jo opened their home to a fifth child — Shoka, from China, who was in need of a home when her parents decided to move to Denver. Shoka remains a daughter to this day. Ernie and his faithful crew ran the store for 24 years until he retired at the age of almost 70.
Many people have told of Ernie’s generosity and trust in them, giving them credit to buy a part so their car could run and they could get to work, and their admiration and gratitude lasted through the years. Employees saw him as a second father, setting an example of honesty, integrity, kindness and generosity … always sprinkled with a sense of humor. In 1994, Jo and Ernie once again opened their hearts and home to take on raising some of their grandchildren in need of home and guidance.
They reveled in the eight grandchildren that were brought home for them to coo over: Jennifer Schumacher Hudson, Adam Duran, Megan Duran Rosario, Tosha Brown Dixon, Desiree Brown Himes, Michael Brown, Benjamin Manchee, and Catie Manchee and special honorary grandson, Josh Olson. They were also blessed with the addition of a granddaughter, Jennifer (Turnbull) Neadeau when Elaine and Ed wed. They began the treks back to the high schools to support the grandkids and all their activities as well. Then they were blessed with great-grandchildren, which gave them the greatest joy of all: Coby, Addie Jo, Raef, Cora Rose, Theo, McKenna, Ryan Elaine, Mykel Jo, Dylan, Chase, Louie, Isabella, Lane, Emree Jo, Chloe Jo, Gavin, Collin, Aria, Genesis and Honor.
When Ernie’s beloved Jo died in 2014, he moved to Fruita to live with Barbara, who dedicated her life to him and his care. Upon his move to Capella Assisted Living Facility in Grand Junction, Mike became his daily caregiver, attending to his needs and keeping him smiling. Cathy and Elaine and Ed Turnbull were frequent visitors, so Ernie was blessed with rarely being alone. But Ernie missed his Jo desperately, and in the past few years, was ready to be called Home. He died peacefully at the VA Hospital, with Mike at his side.
Jo and Ernie never traveled to foreign lands, or bought expensive jewels and cars. Their joy was in the giving — in paying for contacts and braces, prom dresses or tuxes and first cars, college tuitions and wedding dresses and first home down payments. Their joy was in helping to build the local interfaith chapels and ringing the Salvation Army bell and supporting 4-H projects, in St. Jude’s Hospital and Wounded Warrior donations.
Ernie lived his faith and his life was dedicated to help his fellow man, to show kindness, generosity and love wherever he went. He had a great sense of humor, and a wonderful, loud, happy laugh that will be missed. His family, while terribly sad, celebrate his freedom — to be able to walk and run without a wheelchair, to remember everything clearly, and to be reunited with all his loved ones who have gone before.
A celebration of life is planned for June 21, 2022, which would have been Jo and Ernie’s 75th wedding anniversary, at the Vail Memorial Gardens to scatter their ashes in the wildflower gardens growing nearby, and then to have a party to celebrate a life well lived and well loved. Please plan on joining the Brown family, and bring your favorite Ernie stories to tell. A written version of your stories for the family to have would be very much appreciated.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Vail Religious Foundation, St. Jude’s or the Wounded Warrior Project in Ernie’s name.