Retired Col. Ernest Peck was born Oct. 23, 1929, in Jewell, Kansas, and died June 16, 2020 in Manhattan, Kansas, aged 90 years.
Ernie was raised by his grandmother and aunt at 14th and Poyntz in Manhattan, graduating from Manhattan High School in 1947. He started his college education at Kansas State University that year and attended classes until 1951 while working full time as a sign painter. As a sign painter he built much of the marquee for the Campus Theater, including all of the neon lights, that later became the Varney’s marquee and is now used for the New Year’s celebration. This avocation remained later in life as he numbered, pinstriped, and painted many stock and antique cars for Matt Betton and others, as well as Bill Noble’s Formula V, in addition to all the Bell Taxis in Manhattan for several years, first by hand, then later with silk screens.
After a break, when activated for military service in 1951, he continued his classes at KSU in 1955 while working full time and received a Bachelor of Science degree in fine arts in 1958. He enrolled in graduate school in the fall of 1958 while working full time as an instructor at KSU. Again, his education was interrupted when he was activated for military service in 1961 for the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis. After returning to work and graduate school in 1963, he completed his Master of Science degree in 1965.
Ernie enlisted in the Kansas Army National Guard in 1948 and had a career spanning 35 years, having been a warrant officer, a commissioned officer, until finally retiring at the rank of colonel. He was on the National Guard Hi Power Rifle Team for many years as a shooter and coach. In 1964, he was awarded the President’s Hundred tab as one of the top 100 shooters in the nation at the National Matches. Ernie became the commander of the 105th Public Affairs Detachment for the Kansas Army National Guard in the mid-1970s, where he capitalized on his lifelong photography hobby and developed his writing skills. Later, he would become the public affairs officer for the Kansas National Guard.
Ernie has had a passion for shooting sports and gunsmithing starting as a teenager. His interest in gunsmithing led him to run his own custom gunsmithing shop from the 1950s through 2010. He made many custom rifles and repaired many pistols, shotguns and rifles for many sportsmen in the local community. In later years, he took up knife making and engraving donating many of his custom engraved knives as fundraisers to many organizations including Riley County Fish and Game Association, 4-H Shooting Sports, National Wild Turkey Federation. He was very proud of his enduring commitment to introducing and training youth and women in shooting sports as a NRA training counselor including 4-H shooting sports Becoming an Outdoor Woman, Hunter Education, and Women in the Outdoors. He also spent many volunteer hours in helping to establish and run the Fancy Creek Range.
Ernie always had a talent for art. From the time he was very young, he has done drawing, sketching, painting, woodcarving and finally engraving. He was known for his caricatures, which he drew many times on bar napkins or any available paper surface to become acquainted with people. In the last 20 years, he was dedicated to developing his watercolor skills and produced many excellent landscape and barn paintings. He looked forward to participating in his Wednesday Watercolor Group at the Manhattan Art Council Building and enjoyed all of his “Watercolor Friends.”
Ernie actively participated in many civic organizations, belonging to Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, he was also a three-time past Master of the Lafayette Masonic Lodge, a member of the American Legion, Kansas Fish and Game, and the National Rifle Association. He served as a judge for several county’s photography entries at annual 4-H county fairs.
Ernie enjoyed his books, both fiction to feed his imagination and non-fiction to learn how to do things or learn how to do things better. He built and surrounded himself with his own library, his own personal internet before there was an internet. He was a lifelong learner in anything he became interested in doing. He will be missed and we will all remember the good times we had with him.
He is survived by his wife Barbara, sons Norman and retired Brig. Gen. Eric Peck, and daughter Laura, his two grandchildren, Maj. Georgia (Kevin) Schafer and Ely, and two great-grand-daughters. Service and interment will be at Pleasant Valley Cemetery at a later date.