MANHATTAN, Kan. — Ernie Barrett, also known by the title of “Mr. K-State,” has passed away Friday morning at the age of 93 in Manhattan.
A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. CT on Thursday, April 27 at Bramlage Coliseum with a reception in the Shamrock Zone, according to Tom Gilbert, director of Men’s Basketball Communications. Both the service and reception are open to the public.
Barrett is survived by his wife of 72 years, Bonnie, his son Brad and grandson Ryan and wife, Lauren, according to Gilbert. He was preceded in death by his parents, Ernie and Ruby, and his son Duane.
“Ernie Barrett has always been a shining example of what it means to be a K-Stater,” said K-State President Dr. Richard Linton. “From his storied success at K-State — both on and off the court — to his achievements in the NBA, and later, his transformative time as an athletics administrator for the university, Ernie embodied the work ethic, dedication and tenacity that are hallmarks of the Wildcat spirit. We will always celebrate and hold dear the legacy of Mr. K-State and all he accomplished for our great university.”
Barrett was born in Pratt on Aug. 27, 1929, according to Gilbert. He called Wellington his home and later led the Wellington High School to its only state championship in 1947 as an all-state basketball player.
He was recruited by Kansas’ Phog Allen and Oklahoma State’s Henry Iba out of high school, but Barrett chose K-State. It was the start of a long association in 1948 when he entered the university as a freshman basketball player for Hall of Fame head coach Jack Gardner and then freshman coach and future Hall of Famer Fred “Tex” Winter.
“Today is a sad day for Kansas State University,” said Director of Athletics Gene Taylor. “Ernie Barrett poured his heart and soul into K-State for an amazing 75-plus years, and we would not be where we are today as an institution and athletics program without him. As a former athletics director, he was always supportive of me and the decisions I made, and that meant the world to me. His symbolic handshake will forever be remembered as a symbol of his care and love for both people and Kansas State. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bonnie and the entire Barrett family.”
Barrett was a two-time graduate of the university, according to Gilbert. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1951 and a master’s degree in journalism in 1956.
In Barrett’s nearly 75-year association with the university, he served as a student-athlete from 1948-1951, assistant basketball coach from 1958-1964, assistant athletics director from 1963-1969, director of athletics from 1969-1975, university consultant from 1988-1991 and director of development 1991-2007.
“Known for his firm handshakes and his neck hugs, Ernie enjoyed an incredibly well-lived life that I was blessed to be part of as the men’s basketball coach at his alma mater,” said Head Men’s Basketball Coach Jerome Tang. “He might be the greatest Wildcat of all-time. In his near 75-year association with this great school, he accomplished nearly everything you can imagine from playing Final Fours to hiring Hall of Fame coaches to helping build the very building our teams play in today. He came to visit me before every home game and was incredibly welcoming to me and my staff in our first year. No one loved this university and its basketball team more than him. I’m sending love and prayers to his wife Bonnie, son Brad and the rest of their family. What a remarkable life.”
Below is video from 2018 courtesy of K-State Sports showing Barrett helping to celebrate the K-State Men’s Basketball team’s win against the University of Kentucky.
Gilbert said Barrett has numerous achievements attached to his name. As a student athlete, he captained the 1950-1951 team that opened Ahearn Field House while guiding the Wildcats to the Final Four as the school’s first consensus All-American. As an assistant coach to Winter, he was part of two Final Fours in 1959 and 1964 and five Big Eight titles from 1958-1964.
As athletics director and fundraiser, he played an instrumental role in hiring legendary coach Jack Hartman as men’s basketball coach in 1970 and helped push numerous athletics facilities such as the Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Colbert Hills Golf Course, Tointon Family Stadium and R.V. Christian Track and Field Complex.