CASTRO VALLEY -- Cecil Jones lived for the rodeo, especially the Rowell Ranch Rodeo, so much so his wife joked that he loved the rodeo more than he loved her.
A memorial service will be held Thursday at the rodeo grounds for the 97-year-old, who died Aug. 14 in Placerville.
He grew up on a farm and mounted bucking broncos and bulls to escape its dreary work, leading to a lifelong association that saw him promoting and managing national rodeos and entering cowboy halls of fame. But the Castro Valley rodeo -- two years younger than him -- occupied most of his life.
"The Rowell Ranch Rodeo was Cecil's baby," said Russ Fields, president of the rodeo board.
"He promoted it the best he could and worked to keep it going," Fields said, noting the rodeo founded by Harry Rowell is celebrating its 95th year.
Jones was born in Menan, Idaho, in 1917 and grew up on a potato farm. He often would joke that he started competing in rodeos to keep from picking spuds and thinning beets, said Janet Lemmons, who handles rodeo publicity.
"Cecil was pretty funny, but more importantly, he was a friend," Lemmons said. "Cecil was a friend to everyone, and he wanted you to be a friend, too. He made sure everyone met people who could help them out."
Jones was the rodeo go-to guy, Lemmons said.
"Even when he was in the hospital, we could call him on the phone, and he would suggest what we should do," she said.
Jones met Rowell in 1937, eventually becoming the rodeo founder's bookkeeper and ranch manager.
For more than six decades, Jones attended almost every rodeo at Rowell's ranch on Dublin Canyon Road except while in the Army during World War II. He also competed at other rodeos.
"I won bull riding and split second and third in bareback riding and fourth in saddle bronc riding in Reno and then went straight from there to the draft board," he said in a 2003 interview. "They said, 'Goodbye, cowboy, and hello, soldier.'"
Even in the military, he organized rodeos, including one that attracted thousands of spectators. After the war, he went back to competing.
"Bull riding was my best event. It wasn't the one I liked the best -- it scared me to death when I first started," he said.
His wife of 60 years, Fannie Ruth Jones, also became a rodeo booster.
"I'd never seen a rodeo until I met Cecil. After I got into it, I guess I was as hooked as he was," she said in an interview a year before her death in 2004.
Jones later managed and promoted rodeos from San Francisco to New York City, including the Grand Nationals at the Cow Palace and the National Finals.
But the Rowell Ranch Rodeo remained his favorite, Fields said. Its arena was renamed in Jones' honor in 2010.
Jones entered the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and the California Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame. Rowell was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.
Jones was extremely pleased when the Rowell Ranch Rodeo itself took a place in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame on Aug. 9, Lemmons said.
"To have the rodeo inducted completed the circle and recognized Cecil's work," Fields said.
Jones is survived by his daughter, Terry Rivas, of Garden Valley, and two grandchildren.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473. Follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.
July 2, 1917-Aug. 14, 2014
A memorial will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Rowell Ranch Rodeo Park, 9711 Dublin Canyon Road, Castro Valley