Frederick T. Ernst (“Ted”) of Tryon, NC, died in his home on August 28, with his family at his side, just two weeks and two days before his 98th birthday.
Ted was born on September 13, 1922, the second child of Frederick S. and Roberta Ernst. He grew up in both Wellesley, MA, and Jaffrey, NH. The Jaffrey connection was the result of his father’s founding in 1914 of a summer camp for boys named Camp Monadnock on Thorndike Pond, so it was natural that he spent his childhood summers there. He attended Fessenden School, graduated from Milton Academy, and matriculated at Harvard College for his freshman year.
In 1942, he withdrew from Harvard, where he was a member of the ROTC artillery unit, to volunteer for the Army Air Corps with the goal of becoming a pilot.
A diagnosis of colorblindness kept him in the states as a certified flight instructor. When the war escalated in the Pacific, Ted was stationed on Tinian as an aerial gunner aboard a Boeing B-29 Superfortress. He flew a total of 29 combat missions with the 421st Squadron and personally witnessed the end of the war from his plane in the massive flyover of Tokyo Bay by nearly 500 B-29 bombers when the Japanese surrender was being signed on board the USS Missouri.
After discharge, he returned to Harvard and graduated with an AB degree in 1947.
He then moved to New York City and began his short but rewarding career as an advertising executive with BBD & O. When his father died unexpectedly in 1954, Ted and his wife, Jane Kiess, whom he had married in 1950 after they were introduced by Jane’s close friend and fellow professional actress, Leila, moved to Jaffrey to take over the directorship of Camp Monadnock. This was intended to be an interim arrangement to tide the camp through its 1954 season, but it instead became their completely shared total calling for the next 20 years, until they closed the camp after the end of the 1973 season, 60 years after its founding.
Even though the directorship of Camp Monadnock occupied only 20 of Ted’s nearly 98 years, it was the center and passion of his life. He continued the traditions begun by his father based on the teachings of Henry David Thoreau. These offered young boys a natural and invigorating place to learn independence and grow in the woods and on the water while engaging not only in the usual sports and activities associated with summer camps but also in unique traditions and rituals which made a summer at Camp Monadnock an unforgettable experience for all involved.
After the closing of the camp, Ted served two terms in the New Hampshire State House of Representatives, where some regarded him as “Dr. No” for his unwavering advocacy of limited government and fiscal prudence. After deciding not to run for reelection, Jane and he began the transition from New Hampshire’s cold winters to southern living, initially dividing their time between Jaffrey and Hilton Head, SC, before moving fulltime to Tryon, NC. He remained engaged with service to others by volunteering with organizations such as the Rotarians, Habitat for Humanity, Hospice, and as a driver for Meals on Wheels for most of his “retirement” years, until he was 95.
A life-long amateur pilot, adventurer, and student, attending college classes in his nineties, Ted enjoyed traveling and,during his period of residency in Jaffrey, flying his Lake Amphibian. He was always working on a building project or gadget that would have challenged a NASA engineer and was quick to respond to a dinner party opportunity, donning a jacket and ascot for most occasions, while enjoying the company of his treasured friends. He remained mentally acute until the very end of his life.
Ted was predeceased by his loving wife of 52 years, Jane, and by his older sister, Leila Veitch. He is survived by his best friend and younger brother, Richard, of Hopkinton, MA, and by Jane’s and his son, Fred, and his wife, Katharyn, and their son, Theo, of Antrim, NH.
In a very real sense, Ted is also survived by legions of Camp Monadnock campers and counselors, the latter of whom he mentored in many ways, including teaching them at an early age how to assume leadership responsibility for the direction, safety, and wellbeing of other people. It is no coincidence that a disproportionate number of Camp Monadnock counselors went on to distinguished careers in education, many as heads of their schools, while others applied the lessons of their counselor experience to positions of importance in a wide variety of business and professional pursuits. The common thread for all of these “alumni” of the camp was their lifelong feeling of being part of a remarkable experience that deeply influenced all that they did in their later lives, both personally and professionally.
Ted’s burial will be private. A celebration of life will occur when friends and family can safely gather to celebrate this extraordinary man and life.
Gifts in Ted’s memory can be made to Hospice of the Carolina Foothills, P. O. Box 336, Forest City, NC 28043