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When Ellen first met Bob--who had been married once before, when he was still a young man--she didn't even much like rodeo. Born in Scottsdale, Arizona, she found them "too boring" to watch. Yet she fell in love with her rodeo king the moment she first met Bob at a dance in Tempe in 1966, where he was riding on the circuit. He serenaded her with a Hank Williams song, and she was his.

For years, theirs was a difficult marriage, to say the very least. For the most part, it seems, Bob avoided the buckle bunnies who hovered around winners, but he was always the first guy to the bar and the one who turned out the lights long after last call. Ellen began barrel-racing in the early 1970s, and their lives were almost separate: He'd be in one part of the country, riding in amateur association rodeos, she in another. Their paths barely crossed even after they left Arizona in 1971, lived on the road for three years, then moved to Texas for good.

Bob was a cowboy from head to liver, and everything--his wife, his two sons with Ellen, his spur-making business--placed a distant second to life in the arena. On more than a few occasions, Ellen thought about leaving her husband and going back to Arizona; she had seen too many rodeo marriages fail to think theirs would be an easy fix. "We had had a lot of trouble," she recalls now. "Everything in his life was a means to the rodeo."

Years later, Bob would go on the 700 Club and testify to his newfound love for Christianity, but not before repenting his sins. "I was the life of the party," he recalled as he sat next to Ellen, the look on his face--a mixture of guilt and fond memories--revealing what his words didn't. "I was a loud-mouth. I went to extremes. I drank too much. I partied too much. I worked too hard. I did all these things too much." In the end, Bob was saved by a Christian revival that swept through the rodeo community in the late 1970s and early '80s; soon enough, he was preaching at rodeo revivals, a Cowboy for Christ.

Bob was born again; his marriage to Ellen, saved. They would remain together--riding the circuit, making spurs, saving souls--till the day Bob died this past January, a rodeo champion whose heart finally gave out on the gymnasium floor.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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