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Community Impacted by Tragic Farm Death of Local Teen; Cole Ellis Remembered as an Extraordinary Young Man

The life of Cole Ellis was taken way too soon last Friday in a tragic farming accident. 

By Sherrie Norris

Friday afternoon, Dec. 30, 2022, was anything but a happy ending of a good year for the High Country community as a tragic farm accident claimed the life of Sugar Grove teen, 14-year old Cole Ellis.

According to a press release from Watauga County Sheriff Len D. Hagaman, Ellis was killed after the tractor he was operating lost traction, slid down a hill and rolled over into a field near Laurel Branch Road on Old US Hwy, 421 in Western Watauga County. Upon receiving a 911 call at 1:43 p.m. from a witness to the accident, first responders from Watauga Medics, Cove Creek Fire, Zionville Fire and Watauga County Rescue Squad and Watauga County Sheriff’s Office arrived to find Ellis deceased beneath the tractor. They were assisted by Hampton’s Towing, Lil Greene’s Grading.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ellis family as this incident has rocked our entire community,” Sheriff Hagaman said soon after the incident.

As news of the fatality quickly spread across the county, social media began lighting up with outpouring messages from stunned family members, friends and acquaintances, as well as others who barely knew him. Tragedy had once again, sadly enough, united the High Country in one accord.

Young Cole Ellis left a huge imprint upon the hearts of countless people in his short 14 years of life.  

Remembering Cole Ellis

The online tributes to the Ellis family in memory of this precious young man, taken way too soon, have been innumerable since the accident happened on Friday.

A message made public from the Ellis family helped friends and family begin to process the pain of their loss early on, the strength of the family also lending strength to their community of supporters:

“It’s with a heavy heart that we let you know our 14-year-old son, Cole Ellis, was tragically killed in a farming accident December 30th. Cole was doing what he loves to do, feeding cattle and checking them over. To know him was to love him. He worked harder than most men twice his age. He was sharp, witty and knowledgeable beyond his years. He loved his family, his farms and his friends. We cannot begin to thank our community, both farming and friends, who have been here for us. We are blessed beyond measure to have each of you in our lives. We will never be able to thank you all individually, but know that what you have done for us has not gone unnoticed. From the calls, texts, messages and visits, each one has meant so much to us. We love you all!”

And From The Heart of A Teacher

Jamie Oxentine, Instructional Technology Facilitator at Watauga County Schools, was one of many who changed her profile picture to include the Ellis Cattle Company logo in Cole’s memory over the weekend with this explanation to her out-of-town friends: “I changed it out of love, prayer and mourning for a precious family in my community. Their son Cole, a former student of mine, was tragically killed in a tractor accident on Dec 30th. Cole was a fine young man, knew the Lord, and loved farming more than anything. He was one of the hardest working kids I know outside of school. But man, I loved this kid dearly and am so heartbroken. The tears just keep coming and my prayers for his family are constant. Please join me in lifting up his precious family, friends and our community both now and in the days ahead. Thank you so much.

In an interview  on Sunday with High Country Press, Oxentine elaborated:

“ I taught him at Cove Creek every year since kindergarten. He was in 8th grade last year. His obituary actually touched on many of my thoughts of him so well. He was an old soul in a young man’s body. You don’t meet kids like Cole very often. Though he knew school was important, he’d rather be with his cattle or on a tractor more than anything else. He worked hard and was born with farming in his veins. He had big goals and you just knew if we could get him through school, we would have done a great thing. He did so much and loved his family dearly. He was a great big brother to Cody, and like a brother also to his cousins Abby, Paisley andd Clayton. He could fix anything and figure stuff out mechanically. Nothing seemed a challenge to him as long as his hands were dirty and he had on his cowboy boots and his cap. 

Though he despised computers, he was one of the best students I had at putting together robots in one of my classes I was fortunate to have him in middle school. I had the blessing of teaching Cole every year since kindergarten, and he got wittier with every passing year. I remember one Thanksgiving I learned from a family farmer friend how to make sausage. I couldn’t wait to tell Cole what I’d learned from those seasoned farmers. It tickled me that it impressed him — so much that he asked me to bring him a sausage biscuit the next day. And I did! And he was thrilled!

 I’m going to miss Cole with all my heart. I loved him and I hope he knew that; as I do all my students. I was really proud of the young man he had become. He won’t be forgotten and will live on in our hearts and memories forever. He’s farming for Jesus now in the most beautiful pastures our minds can’t even begin to imagine. But I look forward to seeing him again one day!”

The Impact of Cole Ellis Will Long Be Remembered

According to his obituary provided by Austin and Barnes Funeral Home, Cole Ellis was Born March 5, 2008 in Watauga County, a son of Andrew and LeAnn Cole Ellis and brother to Cody. Cole was a member of Willow Valley Baptist Church, a freshman at Watauga High School and a huge part of the farming community through the family business, Ellis Cattle Company.

In his brief 14 years here on earth, Cole touched many lives as a young farmer. Ever-ready to lend a hand, he would gladly step up to any farming challenge. He was most certainly an old soul in a young man’s body. It’s been said by many that he could out work any man three times his age and had more work in his pinky than any other 14-year old.

Cole was proud to be the first President of the Cove Creek Elementary Chapter of the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and being a mentor to so many farmers, both young and old. Cole had a heart for livestock and was always buying or trading on his chickens, goats and calves. He worked hard at everything he did (except homework) and kept himself busy from morning until night if he could.

There were many things in his life that Cole was proud of, but none more than being “brother” to Cody. The two had a bond that no one can ever match and he cherished every moment he could spend with him. Cole was the best big brother a little brother could ever ask for.

Cole is survived by his parents, Andrew and LeAnn Cole Ellis and brother Cody Ellis, all of the home. Grandparents Larry and Peggy Ellis of the Foscoe Community. Gail Winebarger and Darrell Lowrance of Vilas. Kenny and Leah Cole of Vilas. Great Grandmother Shelby Cannon of Vilas, Great Grandmother Ina Bolick of Lenoir and Great Grandfather Franklin Cole of Vilas. 

Also left to cherish his memory are Uncle Allen Ellis, wife Brandi and cousin Allie. Aunt Amber Smith, cousins Laci and Laythan. Uncle Chad Cole, wife Maria and cousins Abby, Paisley and Clayton. Special cousins Ethan and Nathan Bolick and Callie Bolick Sherrill. Girlfriend Marina Wilson. Cole is also survived by numerous great aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Funeral services for Cole Jackson Ellis will be held Wednesday, January 4th at 2:00pm at Alliance Bible Fellowship, 1035 NC Highway 105 Bypass, Boone, NC 28607. Officiating will be Pastor Ray Greene, Pastor Derrick Wilson, and Pastor Chad Cole. Burial will follow at the Willow Valley Baptist Church Cemetery. 

The family will receive friends Tuesday, January 3rd, from 5:00pm until 9:00pm at Alliance Bible Fellowship, 1035 NC Highway 105 Bypass, Boone, NC 28607.

The family respectfully requests no flowers, but donations can be made in Cole’s honor to either the Cove Creek Chapter of the FFA or the Watauga High School Chapter of the FFA. 

The family wishes to thank all those that responded to the accident. Cove Creek VFD, Watauga Medics, Watauga Rescue and the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. 

Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.austinandbarnesfuneralhome.com.

Austin & Barnes Funeral Home & Crematory is serving the Ellis family.