Ernie was the oldest of four boys and one girl. Here is what his youngest brother Rolf remembers:
A couple of nights after Ernie died we watched a marathon of family movies at his house: birthdays, holidays, pool parties, vacations. Cheryl was usually pregnant and Ernie unseen except for his hand occasionally stuck into frame, trying to coax one of the children to perform for the camera. We heard him, though, interviewing the children, laughing at their antics. Ernie simply couldn’t get enough of them as the sheer volume of footage clearly shows. I had no doubt he would be a devoted father when he told me shortly after the birth of Alexis, his firstborn: “She will never date.”
My brother Ernie was an amazing man. Funny, bright, accomplished, charitable, loyal. He had a boyish charm and playfulness that drew us to him and even made his quirks endearing somehow.
For instance, Ernie was compulsive. With the exception of his family and his deeply rooted beliefs, Ernie changed passions like many of us change socks. He would find some new interest and read up on it, sometimes becoming an expert, other times learning just enough to be a danger to himself and others, and then get everybody he knew involved in the same activity before tiring of it and moving on to something else, leaving everyone in the lurch. Intellivision baseball, computers, golf, hearts, Xywrite, the Raiders, bowling, Boggle, pinball, Mai Tais, the piano, The Simpsons, diving, day-trading and basketball, to name just a few.
Several years ago Ernie brought a new computer game and sat playing it for three solid days in his bedroom without every stopping to eat, sleep or shower. That was the first time Cheryl ever swore at him. My youngest brother Brandon recalled one visit when he was forced to watch Ernie play Super Mario Brothers until the early morning hours because Ernie wanted to prove he could get through the whole game. Brandon never got to play and probably could have used a lesson from Cheryl in swearing at Ernie.
When Ernie was a child he was fascinated with the natural world. We lived in a little brown house in Midway, Utah, up the road from The Homestead, a resort that our family owned and operated. There were acres and acres of farmland and cow pastures to explore. The Homestead was built near a geothermal mound called a hot pot and the rocks from it and other craters were used to build many houses in the valley. Ernie loved catching the lizards that crawled around the hot pot and figured out that he could study them more closely if he brought them home to live on our pot rock fireplace.
This scientific curiosity also manifest itself when Ernie first became sick. He would test his hyper-reflexes and watch his muscles spasm as his body was beginning to break down, almost as if he were observing someone else. Although it had to have been terrifying for him, he was also fascinated with the process.
Ernie yelled. I don’t think it was the act of yelling itself that he enjoyed nearly so much as it was the results the yelling produced. He yelled mostly at his kids and at his basketball teams, often using very colorful language, and look how all of them turned out. Perhaps the world could use more of Ernie’s yelling. One evening Ernie called to tell me about a technical foul he got for swearing during a church basketball game. After he was given the first technical Ernie turned to the ref and said, “If you liked that word then you’re gonna LOVE this one,” and used another phrase that got him tossed out. Not just from the game. From the building.
Older and wiser than his siblings, Ernie found that the role of instigator was the way to go. Encourage, sit back, reap the rewards and never take the blame. On a family trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, for our grandfather’s ninetieth birthday Ernie, of course, videotaped everything. Never satisfied with bland family documentation, Ernie was looking to make an action film. He coaxed brother Eric to speed around the ice-skating rink, weaving dangerously around dozens of small children (most of them our own kin), and from ground level taped Eric spraying ice into the camera. Eric promptly got the boot by the rink police while Ernie dried his camera lens and sought out the next shot.
Despite all of Ernie’s foibles, we knew we could count on him when push came to shove. A number of years ago when I was passing a kidney stone I called Ernie and pleaded for a ride to the hospital. He came in an instant. It was my third visit to the emergency room that weekend and as we sped along the freeway the pain was unbelievable, coming in waves and doubling me over. Having seen great displays of pain from Cheryl on the occasion of his children’s births, he used his experience from LaMaze classes and got me breathing in that heavy rhythm. I have to say that it did little to ease the pain, but I was so touched by Ernie’s concern for me that when I finally passed the stone I gave it to him.
When Mark first got his start at KOST radio, he used to sweat out his job security every thirteen weeks when ratings came out. In passing, his boss, Johnny Kaye, mentioned that perhaps Mark’s contract could be renegotiated if Johnny were to get a part on “Falcon Crest”, the show that Ernie was then producing. In passing, Mark mentioned this conversation to Ernie. Shortly thereafter, Johnny landed the role of a security guard and Mark’s contract was renewed – all in passing.
While we all have wide and varied experiences with Ernie, it would probably be safe to say that we all share the same amazement at how Ernie coped with his disease and continued to draw the most from his life and enjoy those around him. Often when he sat coughing or choking, I would look at him, wanting to help somehow, and he would see my concern and smile, letting me know things were all right. It seems he always ended up comforting me instead.
It now falls to us to remember the lessons Ernie leaves us: lessons of laughter and hard work, of living life to the fullest, of confronting obstacles, not avoiding them, of giving ourselves completely, of always putting forth our best effort. I know it was through his faith in Our Savior that Ernie was able to endure his own suffering. Ernie continued to believe in miracles and I believe we witnessed several. Like the Friday evening that the entire Calabasas varsity basketball team stood hand-in-hand in Ernie’s kitchen, praying with a minister for Ernie’s health, all of them invoking the name of Jesus even though many of the boys were Jewish. They did this out of love and that’s no small miracle. And like the way the entire community rallied around him, approaching him with a hug and a kiss even though he was too sick to return the same.
I am eternally grateful that I can call Ernie my brother. I love him dearly and I know that wherever he is he feels my love and returns it.