Frank Ernest readily admits the promise of a tasty treat and a couple of leisure hours with pay was the lure for one of his first volunteer acts.
Ernest was a young man working at Stelco when one of his co-workers suggested they give blood.
“I went on a dare, basically,” said Ernest. “It was two hours off work and we got paid for it, and there were cookies and milk.”
After his initial blood donation, which stretched to 163 donations over a four-year period, Ernest’s volunteer commitments “just kept going.”
When his children were younger, he coached hockey and baseball, refereed and was involved with the Ancaster Figure Skating Club. In 1982 Ernest helped establish CHOICES, a residential program for people living with developmental challenges.
For the past several years, the 77-year-old’s twin volunteer passions have been his church, St. John’s Anglican, and the Ancaster Food Drive. For 22 years, Ernest has been a key player in the successful organization and distribution of food to needy families.
“We started with 7,000 pounds in the first year and we had over 80,000 pounds this year,” said Ernest. “Since the beginning, the Ancaster Food Drive has collected over a million pounds.”
Every week, Ernest and a crew also collect bread, food and clothing donations and deliver them to St. Matthew’s House. Through St. Johns, Ernest has also had a hand in developing the Ancaster Business Improvement Area’s farmers market and the winter ice rink. As well, he raises money every year for the Canadian Cancer Society’s for Relay for Life.
Ernest retired in 2007 after working for 34 years as a firefighter/paramedic. Volunteering has always been part of his life, likely spurred by an empathetic nature that evolved by growing up in Belgium in 1937.
“Some of the things I saw during the war were absolutely atrocious,” Ernest said. “Most North American people have no idea what war is all about. In war, all parties do horrible things.
“…For six years during the war, we did without. There was no fresh fruit, candy or cookies. We had the bare bones, and that was it.”
Ernest and his family came to Canada in 1951. He married his sweetheart, Joyce, 10 years later and the couple settled into a home on Wilson Street to raise their children.
Ernest is a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee recipient, has been installed into the Order of Niagara and was nominated as Ancaster Citizen of the Year. Last month he was among six seniors honoured at the sold-out Senior of the Year Awards gala. Ernest received the Compassion and Companionship Award for demonstrating fellowship and friendship, and supporting the most vulnerable in the community.
The awards gala was a fantastic night, said Ernest.
“I really feel the city did a wonderful job for all of us volunteers. There were 600 people there and they really put on a show, with a lovely meal. (Awards coordinator) Lisa Maychak did a really good job. It was really well done.”
But awards and accolades will never replace the feelings in Ernest’s heart for being able to help his community.
“You do things and they make you feel good,” he said. “You have done something for society. You don’t do it for the money. You do it because it makes you feel good.”
This is the second in a series of stories on the local recipients of the City of Hamilton’s 2014 Senior of the Year Awards.