Donor Stories - Amelia Ernst

Amelia Ernst

By Rich Hanner, News-Sentinel editor

Amelia Ernst says there is nothing remarkable about her. Amelia Ernst is just wrong. And that’s a rarity, because even at 86, her mind is razor-sharp and her memory is spot-on.

But the case for Ernst being remarkable is irrefutable.

She knows three languages: English, Spanish and German. She holds master’s degrees in both history and psychology. She taught and served as a counselor in Lodi and Stockton over a span of more than 50 years, instructing everything from shorthand and accounting to English and economics.

At age 81, she jumped in when another teacher fell ill and taught English as a second language at the Lodi Adult School. Her bright mind and irrepressible spirit have touched thousands of lives in Lodi. And now, Ernst has provided a gift that means many more lives will be touched well into the future.

As part of her estate planning, Ernst is creating a legacy endowment to Lodi’s Adult Day Care services. Her generosity will create a stream of revenue for the program far into the future.

Based at Hutchins Street Square, the program provides daily activities for Lodi residents dealing with dementia and related challenges. It also provides a respite for caregivers, often spouses or other family members.

“When I heard about Mrs. Ernst’s gift, I had tears in my eyes,” said Terri Whitmire, long-time program director. “This is our first endowment. What it means is huge for us. Just huge.”

A Purposeful Life

At her home on a recent morning, Ernst sat in her library, an Apple computer nearby, her blue eyes clear and bright. She talked about her life of helping and achieving; a life of purpose.

Born in South Dakota, she moved with her family to Lodi as a girl. She and a boy in the neighborhood, Ernie Ernst, developed a friendship and later married.

Ernst attended Emerson Elementary, Needham School and Lodi High, where she was captain of the drill team. She recalls her father being deeply supportive of his daughters’ dreams of going to college. (Ernst’s sister, Esther Lust, died in 2001.)

Her uncle, who had two boys, once told her father that he needn’t worry about saving for college.

“He said my father wouldn’t need to send girls to college. My father told him that girls deserved a college education as much as boys, and they needed an education to assure their future,” Ernst recalled.

She studied at Sacramento City College and then transferred to UCLA. Befitting her wide-ranging intellect, she earned her degree in 1948 with a double major: Fashion design and business. She dabbled in the world of fashion but found the opportunities scarce. “Unless you lived and had contacts in Europe, you couldn’t get a break,” she said. She returned to Lodi and began her career in education, first teaching at Needham, then Lodi and Tokay highs, and finally, at Delta.

Ernst has always been a quick learner, and that led to her taking on a striking array of courses, among them business, accounting, economics, psychology, history and keyboarding. She earned a master’s in history from University of the Pacific. In her years of teaching, she only booted out one student.

“I told them I had high standards, and that included never using profanity,” she said. “I expected them to meet the same standards. One student was upset about getting an F and I told him: ‘You had to get a 60 percent to get a D and you didn’t. I had no choice but to flunk him on that paper. He used the F word and I told him that was it — he was done with the class.” As her career progressed, she discovered an affinity for counseling, and she returned to college to earn a master’s in psychology at the University of La Verne. She relished helped students map out career and academic plans, and regularly found internships and parttime jobs for students around town. “If they did not have a B, I wouldn’t consider them,” she said. “I never referred a student who wasn’t hired and I never referred a student who was fired. In fact, it got to the point where the employers didn’t even interview them, they just hired them.”

A Special Empathy

She and her late husband, a fruit contractor, traveled widely. They did not have any children, but were active in church and community activities. For most of her life, Ernst has dealt with cardiac challenges. She suffered a heart attack at age 35 and has had two open heart surgeries.

After heart problems recurred this June, she reviewed her estate planning. After conferring with attorney Sabrina Schnewei-Coe and financial planner Darrell Drummond, Ernst decided to leave a substantial portion of her estate to the adult day care program.

“My parents were both very giving people,” she said. “They gave regularly to the Methodist Church and the Gideons International, which provides Bibles. So my husband and I tried to replicate their model of compassion.”

Her mother suffered a stroke and lived for several years in a local skilled nursing home before passing away. Ernst has witnessed how diverse activities can enrich the lives of those dealing with chronic age-related ailments. She’s witnessed, too, the sacrifices of caregivers. She has special empathy for those families who are taking care of a loved one, but lack the money for a day care program. “They are unsung heroes, and they deserve a break,” she said.

Drummond said Ernst’s endowment, made through the Lodi Community Foundation, will make an ongoing difference for the program.

“Her generosity will help adult day care continue. It is not a one-time gift, but a gift that will help provide sustainability,” he said.

Ernst hopes her gift might inspire others to arrange legacy donations before they pass away.

Sitting in her sunlit library, though, she insisted her gift is quite modest — and that her life has been, in her words, “very mundane.”

Terri Whitmire is among those who would disagree.

“What she has given us will help many families in the community for many years to come,” she said. “It is a wonderful gift from a wonderful woman.”