Walter Lewis Ernst was born on Dec 5, 1935 in San Jose, California to George and Lydia Ernst. George came from a long line of farmers and Lydia came to California from Oklahoma via Washington. The Ernst farm was one of a few owned by cousins up and down the street in San Jose. Walt was the baby of the family, with sister Eleanore 5 years older and brother Robert 8.
Not only was Walt the youngest sibling, he was also the youngest of many cousins who all grew up together. There were many boisterous family gatherings with all of them. Lydia would cook 3 turkeys and a few chickens for Thanksgiving to feed everyone.
During his childhood, Walt remembered war rations, including chocolate covered raisins, which he hated, and having to pull down and latch the shades at night, so that no light would come from their house. Christmas presents were wrapped with the colored Sunday comics, and he vividly remembered Japanese kids at school being gone one day, never to be seen again. He always wondered how that could happen in America.
When Walt was 11 years old, George died unexpectedly. His mom couldn’t take care of all the chickens and everything else on the farm, so he spent his 12-year-old summer butchering and cleaning chickens. He described himself as not the best student, and should have been moved to another school but was pretty sure that they gave him a break due to his circumstances, including the fact that he had to work to help his mom financially. He figured out he was a pretty good runner and got the most improved in PE, which helped boost his morale a bit.
When he was 13, he was riding his bike with his friend, and saw a fire truck going down the road. They followed it to see where it was going. It was his house, burned down to the ground. His mother had to sell the farm, move to the city, and take a job in the cannery.
Being a December baby, he graduated from high school at the age of 17. Since it was during the time of the draft, he figured he might as well get it over with and enlisted.
After boot camp, he spent time in Germany and was able to take a nice tour of some of Europe during his leave.
When he was discharged, he came back to San Jose and worked for the San Jose Mercury newspaper as a driver. A couple of years later, his mom passed away. He was able to get a job working at the post office at the San Francisco Airport where he worked for about 50 years.
He met Erlyne at First Immanuel Church in San Jose. At the time, he was working nights at the post office and going to the beach during the day. He was pretty tan during the summer and at first, Erlyne’s mother disapproved, thinking he was some sort of a “playboy” because of it. She was still attending Seward College in Nebraska, studying to be a teacher. Once she took her teaching position in Paso Robles, he went to see her almost every weekend.
They were married in July of 1963.
They moved to Burlingame and then to a rented house in San Mateo where Beth, Brian and Rene were born. In 1969, they were able to buy their first home. Meanwhile, Gloria Dei started its first school, so Erlyne helped by teaching part time the first year, while Walt was in charge of the 3 little ones and working nights. In 1972, they welcomed Brent into the family.
Walt loved playing cards. He would play cribbage at work during his breaks and taught his kids how to play at home. Every family gathering, he and his siblings would play pinochle or the group would play Hearts. Later in life, he would play games with the grandchildren every time they visited.
He was a wonderful son-in-law, always there to help out Erlyne’s aging parents. Every year he bought 2 corsages on Mother’s Day: one for Erlyne and one for her mother.
He liked baseball and was a Dodger fan because the first time he watched a game, the Dodgers were getting clobbered and he felt sorry for them because they were the underdog.
He loved old movies and he and Erlyne would go to Stanford once a week to watch one.
He was a great fix-it guy. Before the internet, he would go to the library to find a manual for the particular item so he could fix it himself. He even re-roofed his two-story house all by himself and did such a good job that an actual roofer stopped by and admired it. That roof is still in place 30 years later.
He was an excellent gardener. His yard always looked amazing.
He loved walking and would walk for hours every day after he retired.
He kept doing puzzles even up until his last week.
When the kids were grown, he started driving cars for Hertz at night, moving them from one location to another. This gave him the opportunity to drive a variety of different types of cars, from a Smart Car to a Corvette. He also made many friends and had some interesting adventures for about 30 years.
He was always the epitome of a gentleman. He would never let a woman walk next to the street. He always opens the car door for Erlyne. He would wait for others to choose their seat at a table before he would sit down.
He cared for Erlyne for many years after her stroke, being her sole caregiver until he was physically unable. He kept up all her traditions for her including sending birthday cards to a myriad of people and continuing to write letters to her childhood friends.
He was always active in his church, being the treasurer for countless years. Whatever needed to be done at the church property he would be available to do, if he was able. One time someone told him he should run for church president. He immediately declined. Leadership was not in his makeup.
He is proceeded in death by his wife, Erlyne, brother, Robert and sister, Eleanore. He is survived by daughters Beth and Rene, sons Brian and Brent, sons-in-law Tim and Larry and daughter-in-law Michelle as well as grandchildren Courtney, Connor, Jessica, Daniel, Andrea, Chuck and “adopted” grandchildren Ana and Luka.
We love and miss him already.