In memoriam: Nat Love, owner and founder of Nat’s Outdoor Sports, loses fight with cancer

On March 19, at 11 p.m., Nat Love, owner and founder of Nat’s Outdoor Sports in Bowling Green, Ky., lost his battle with cancer. SNEWS pays tribute to this much-loved man.
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On March 19, at 11 p.m., Nat Love, owner and founder of Nat’s Outdoor Sports in Bowling Green, Ky., lost his battle with cancer. A beloved member of the Bowling Green community, Love’s death was honored on Sunday, March 20 by the Bowling Green League of Bicyclists and other members of the community who gathered for a group ride down Fairway Avenue.

The Bowling Green Daily News quoted one of the riders, Forrest Halford, as saying, “We wanted show Nat how much we love him for taking part in this community for so many years. His hand is on everything outdoor sports-related in this community.”

Nat’s shut down at noon on March 22 to allow all employees an opportunity to pay their respects at Love’s funeral, which was held at 2 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church.

Tom Valone, owner of Great Outdoor Provision Co., shared the following with SNEWS® that perhaps best sums up the feelings from the many individuals we spoke with who knew and loved Nat:

Most of us in Grassroots Outdoor Alliance knew Nat, as indeed, did most of the vendor community. And, the community of Bowling Green did as well. Everyone wanted to know Nat. In fact, a good friend of mine from college who became a physician living in Bowling Green, told me that he had to split his outdoor business between me and Nat as Nat did so much good in the community that he just had to give him some of his business! That was the kind of man Nat was.

When we started Grassroots, Nat was attracted to the group’s requirements of fiscal responsibility and professionalism, not some siren of “better prices,” or “kick the big boys’ ass.” And, early on, Nat mentioned that he was having a hard time justifying his participation on a dollar level, but he sure had no trouble justifying the membership on broader business levels, and on being a part of something that was fundamentally right as opposed to just getting by, or grabbing for all he could. That was the kind of man Nat was. 

In my life as a vendor with Layers, I was always appreciative that Nat and his buyers gave us and our line an open minded, fair shake, while most retailers simply hedged their buys to spread the commissions around, even to the point of being foolishly consistent. Nat was never foolishly consistent; he bought what his customers wanted to buy from him, and then made sure that they were happy. There have been a host of happy customers in Bowling Green for years! And vendors knew in black and white terms if their products made the cut, and could count on orders made with careful planning as opposed to reckless, “compliant” orders just to make a rep happy. And the vendors were paid on time all the time. Happy retail customers and happy vendors -- that was the kind of man Nat was.

Over time, we all develop a set of values that guide our companies. Not some MBA bullshit wrested out of a series of formal meetings made for others’ consumption or to feel good about, but a long-developed set of the values that drive our approach to business so that when we work on improvements, or new businesses or solving problems we are reminded just how we do what we do. I am not sure if Nat ever memorialized those values in writing for Nat’s Outdoors, but I know what they are:

• Nat’s always practices the Golden Rule in all aspects of business; with fellow staff, landlords, vendors, service providers, and customers.

• Nat’s always insists that straight up integrity in all aspects of business is non-negotiable.

• Nat’s embraces teamwork to function at a high level for all interactions within and without the company.

• Nat’s is authentic, real, and all about total quality.

And, Nat was Nat’s. Nat’s was who Nat was. And, due to his insistence on the above values, everyone who came into contact with Nat’s enjoyed a special relationship that never goes out of style, but seems to increasingly be lost in our modern world. Yep, total quality is the kind of man Nat was. 

Nat Love will be missed -- as a man, as a retailer, as a leader and as one who made the world better than he found it.

Our prayers and thoughts and best wishes are with those he leaves behind to carry on his life’s work and passion. 

The following is excerpted from the printed obituary:

Love was born June 25, 1943 in Chicago. He lived in Birmingham, Ala., before moving to Russellville, where he graduated high school. He graduated from Western Kentucky University, where he met his wife, Doris, on the steps of Cherry Hall. After a brief period in California working for his uncle in a chain of Thrifty Mart Stores, Nat served three years in the Army. Stationed at Fort Knox, where he graduated from Officer Candidate School, he tested the Sheridan tank. After the Army, Nat bought the L&M Bookstore, which was off campus, and later opened a bike shop next door to a nearby restaurant. After realizing people were happier buying bikes rather than books, he sold the bookstore to Western Kentucky University and opened Nat’s Outdoor Sports on 12th Avenue. Later, Nat’s moved to Thoroughbred Square and then to its present location at Wilkinson Trace. Nat was an Episcopalian who served as an acolyte in Russellville under Father Howard Surface. He served on the vestry twice at Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green. Nat had lots of special people in his life, all his hunting buddies and was active in the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that brought back elk to Kentucky, and served as state chairman. He loved his customers, all his employees during 38 years and so many good friends. Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Doris Fancher Love, whom he married on Nov. 25, 1965; two daughters, Lisa Martens and her husband, Doug, of Bowling Green and Carla Anna Love of Vine Grove; a son, Nathaniel Howard Love IV and his wife, Cindy, of Bowling Green; five grandchildren, Kyle Douglas Martens, Leah Alexandra Martens, Nathaniel Howard Love V, Nolan Reed Love and Ella Marie Love, the new granddaughter who just arrived from Korea; two sisters, Nancy Schulten Huston and her husband, Tim, and Helen Love Wallin, all of Bowling Green; and several nieces and nephews.

Roanne Miller, president of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance remembers Nat this way: “Nat wasn't just a member of our group, but a man who was greatly respected and folks genuinely enjoyed spending time with him. At the 2010 Grassroots Early Show in Snowbird, Utah, Nat was presented with an award honoring his commitment to our organization and to independent outdoor specialty business. As Dave Baker, one of the founders of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance stated when presenting the award to Nat: ‘Nat was one of our first members and he showed up at our first meeting of rag-tag retail owners and instantly offered to roll up his sleeves and pitch in. He effortlessly represented the spirit of independent outdoor specialty retail. Instead of an award plaque, Grassroots presented Nat with a beautiful hunting knife knowing the award would better suit his passion for hunting and being outdoors and would get some use rather than simply hanging on a wall! After receiving the award, Nat sat quietly at his table, not wanting to bring attention to himself. His humble nature was an inspiration to all of us. As Bob McCain, owner of Buffalo Peak Outfitters shared with me, ‘Nat was a man of few words, but when he said something people listened.’”

Scott Willis worked for Nat’s from 1984 to 2001 and continued to call on Love and his buyers after that time as a sales rep for Columbia. In addition to pointing out many of the same qualities summarized in the comments above, Willis told SNEWS that those who knew Love knew him as a fun-loving man with a great sense of humor (see the recent flyer from 2010 sale to the right, inviting customers to come in and sing for a discount) as an example.

“I remember once, I think it was 1985, when Nat walked into the bike shop’s back room and told his staff, ‘Listen, when you come into the store to help a customer, you really have to put your shirt on first.’ We were just a bunch of long haired guys who loved working for him because he cared about all of us,” said Willis. “But even then, Nat worked hard to balance that casual, rustic atmosphere he loved with a strong sense of running a successful business.

“But most of all, through all of his life, Nat was simply about the business of selling fun. His store was fun to work in and shop in and he was fun to be with.”

Fun. Humble. Authentic. Passionate. Honest. Thoughtful. Caring. Respected. Respectful. Independent. Straight-Shooter. Happy. Open-Minded. Loyal. These words and many more like them sum up the life of Nat Love, whose name itself embodies a life well-lived – deeply loving and universally loved.

--Michael Hodgson

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