Rolland Ellsworth Jr. — “Rojo,” to his friends — had a contagious, fun-loving spirit.
“The memories we have of Rojo are sitting around on our balcony and telling stories and the guy didn’t stop laughing for an hour straight,” said Brett Trembly, president of Kappa Sigma, a fraternity to which Ellsworth had pledged. “Rojo was the last person in the world you would want something like this to happen to. He was one of the happiest people that I’ve ever met.”
Ellsworth, an 18-year-old freshman at Eastern New Mexico University, died Thursday in a bull-riding accident during a rodeo at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.
A bull he was riding bucked him off and then stepped on him, according to David Browder, head coach of the ENMU rodeo team. Browder said Ellsworth was wearing a chest-protecting safety vest.
“We are deeply saddened by this terrible news,” ENMU President Steven Gamble wrote in a press release Friday. “Our hearts go out to the Ellsworth family and all of his friends. We will do everything we can to help them cope with this tragedy.”
“Anytime we lose a student,” Gamble added, “we have lost a part of the Eastern family. We are all in a state of shock and grief.”
The rodeo team continued in the competition following the death, according to Ronnie Birdsong, vice president for University Relations and Enrollment Services.
Ellsworth was from Ramah, a town roughly 100 miles west of Albuquerque.
Kappa Sigma members said Ellsworth was a rodeo enthusiast, and even had a rodeo scholarship lined up at a Kansas University. But the scholarship fell through, as did entry to another New Mexico university.
So Ellsworth chose to attend ENMU, where he told Kappa Sigma members at a fraternity retreat last weekend in Amarillo that he felt “the wind blew him to (Eastern) for a reason,” Trembly said.
Sophomore Mario Cabrera, Ellsworth’s big brother in the fraternity, described Ellsworth as quiet and laid-back, but always smiling.
“If we saw him smiling then we would start smiling too — it was contagious,” Cabrera said. “Everybody around here liked him. I don’t believe there was anybody here who had a problem with him at all.”
On Friday at noon Kappa Sigma members held a memorial for Ellsworth. Fraternity members said they hope to attend his funeral in Ramah. Arrangements for the funeral are still pending.