The Butler County community lost one of its champions Sunday.
Robert “Bob” Ernst spent decades volunteering his time and talent to organizations like the United Way, YMCA, Joe Nuxhall Hope Project and Badin High School.
Ernst died at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford after a lengthy illness. He was 73.
RELATED: Share your condolences
“I always felt he was my strongest supporter,” said Kelli Kurtz, a friend of Ernst’s and Badin’s executive director of advancement. “Whatever I went on to do in my life and my career, he was always one of the first people to reach out to say, ‘I’m proud of you’ and ‘Keep working hard, you can do it.’ I’m really going to miss that.”
She’ll also miss waking up at 4 a.m. to a text “with an encouraging word or another great idea. And there were too many nights to count where my phone would go off.”
And Badin will miss the impact of one of its greatest cheerleaders, she said.
“You don’t find people every often who care of an organization that it becomes a part of their life’s mission. That’s what Badin was to Bob,” said Kurtz. “It’s hard to describe the impact Bob Ernst had had on Badin High School in his lifetime, and in our history.”
He was inducted into the Badin High School Hall of Honor and Butler/Warren County Business Hall of Fame.
Ernst was born on Aug. 17, 1943, in Indianapolis, Ind. He retired in 2003 from Fifth Third Bancorp. He was the head of corporate development and formerly the regional president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank in Butler, Warren and Preble counties. Before his time with Fifth Third, he was president and CEO of Dollar Federal Savings Bank for 17 years.
After his time at Fifth Third, he co-founded Financial Performance Partners, a management consulting firm specializing in providing financial services to community banks across the country.
Ernst’s involvement with Badin started before his own children were students at the school in the mid-1980s, but his passion for the school really was on display when he became the co-chair of the school’s first capital campaign in 1987-88.
“The school was in great disrepair and really showing its age,” Kurtz said. “I truly don’t think Badin will be where it is today without him.”
Because of Ernst’s leadership, Kurtz said the school exceeded its goal for that capital campaign by $400,000.
Ernst continued to help the school before three of his grandchildren started to attend Badin High School. Six years ago, when Badin’s enrollment “hit a real low point,” Kurtz said there was community discussion on the doubts that the school would be sustainable. Ernst’s leadership and financial support led Badin to have an at-capacity enrollment and a waiting list for students to get into the school.
Ernst and his wife also established eight $1,000 scholarships that are awarded annually to incoming students. Thirty students have received a scholarship.
It’s also because of Ernst the Joe Nuxhall Golf Outing, which will celebrate its 33rd year when it tees off on June 5, has been able to continue after the death of the Reds Hall of Fame broadcaster.
The golf outing, which is one of the Joe Nuxhall Hope Projects, supports the Nuxhall scholarship program. Ernst has been involved in 27 of the 30 years they scholarships have been awarded, said Kim Nuxhall, son of the late Joe Nuxhall.
About 170 scholarships have been awarded in the past three decades.
“It’s an iconic loss in terms of the scholarship, and just friendship,” said Nuxhall, chairman of the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League. Ernst and Joe Nuxhall spent many hours playing racquetball and handball.
Ernst helped to arrange a trip to the British Isles for Joe Nuxhall to play golf in Scotland, a place the broadcaster had always wanted to play before he died.
“He’s been a great family friend, and gave dad one of the great thrills,” Kim Nuxhall said.
And Bob Ernst put to ease a great worry in the mind of Joe Nuxhall before he died: who would lead the legacy of the golf outing.
“I think he connected with dad because dad had a heart for helping kids and Bob shared that with dad,” said Nuxhall. “It was as much as Bob’s baby as it was dad’s baby. We had some of our best years in just the last few years, and that’s a lot due to Bob’s support.”
Ernst also supported other Joe Nuxhall community efforts, most notably the miracle league and character education fund.
“What a positive spirit this man was,” said Nuxhall. “He was always thinking of the positive, never thinking of the negative.”
Ernst is survived by his wife Nelda, son David Ernst, daughter Kelli Hodges, four grandchildren, brothers Bill and Dick Ernst, and sister Key West.
— — —
VISITATION AND SERVICES
The visitation for Bob Ernst is set for 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9 at Brown Dawson Flick Funeral Home, 1350 Millville Ave. in Hamilton.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 10 at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church, 2550 Millville Ave. in Hamilton
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Queen of Peace Catholic Church, 2550 Millville Ave., Hamilton, Ohio 45013; Joe Nuxhall Scholarship Foundation c/o Fairfield Community Foundation, 5350 Pleasant Ave., Fairfield, Ohio 45014; Badin High School Scholarship Fund, 571 New London Road, Hamilton, Ohio 45013; or Mother Teresa Catholic Elementary School, 7197 Mother Teresa Lane, Liberty Twp., Ohio 45044.