Daniel J. Ernst, formerly of East Aurora, died April 6, 2021 in Bristol, R I, due to complications from a spinal cord injury. He was 81.
Dan had been a resident of the Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol since 2003 after he was paralyzed when he was struck by a car while crossing a street in Westerly, RI. The driver was later convicted of driving while intoxicated.
Despite his disability, he never lost his spirit and determination and was an inspiration to others as he made the best of his situation and continued to enjoy music, especially Irish music, and was able to attend live concerts.
Always intrigued by the sea, he enlisted in the US Coast Guard in 1957 shortly after graduating from East Aurora High School. He served aboard the buoy tender Sassafras out of Cape May, NJ, and was honorably discharged as an Engineman 2nd Class. He then served in the Merchant Marine aboard a tanker on the East Coast.
He returned to East Aurora and worked at the family business, Ernst Oil Corp, maintaining oil furnaces. He used the second floor of a large storage facility on the property to build a wooden sail boat, "Neptune's Cradle," that he sailed on Lake Erie and later on Northeast coastal waters and on numerous voyages to Florida.
He was a member of the East Aurora Volunteer Fire Dept and its newly-formed underwater recovery squad.
After his marriage to the former Valerie MacDonnell, he and his wife, son and two step children moved to Rhode Island in 1978. He did furnace work for the former Celico Oil Co while continuing to sail local waters. After a divorce, he took "early retirement" and divided his time between working on a lobster boat and making annual voyages to Florida via the Intracoastal Waterway. His faithful companions were black Labrador retrievers, first Primus then Reiky.
On one trip he only made it as far as South Carolina, stopping to help repair homes damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. He ended up spending the whole winter there.
Never one for lofty sentiments, he always sought a life of simplicity and sustainability. He never collected possessions, but rather cards and letters indicative of his relationship with family and friends.
He was a devout Catholic and helped numerous Church and other charities. He supported the Boys and Girls Club of East Aurora and was named to its Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame. He was an early volunteer for Buffalo’s Excalibur Leisure Skills Center, which offers boating and fishing opportunities for disabled and disadvantaged people. He used his boat-building skills to help get the first boat launched in the mid-1980s. He continued to support Excalibur after his injury and was a vice president of the organization.
The son of the late Daniel J. Ernst and Eleanor Doherty Ernst, he is survived by his son, Kevin (Meg) ; step children, Timothy and Cheryl Klotz; brothers David, Thomas and Joseph; five grandchildren, Adara, Felix, River, Aidan and Lorelei, and numerous cousins.
Services will be held at a later date.
Arrangements are with the George C. Lima Funeral Home.