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The Unforgettable Ernie Mitchell Dies at Age 94

You seldom meet someone like Ernie Mitchell, and when you do, you're unlikely to forget him.

Ernie, whom many residents of Ave Maria say embodied much of what made Ave Maria special in its first decade, died at home Saturday about a month shy of his 95th birthday.

He was born on Halloween, 1922, in Reading, Pennsylvania. At age six, he lost his left arm in a trolley accident but his grandfather, an immigrant from Ireland, told him, "Never say you can't do anything," recalled his wife, Mary.

He took it to heart. "If anyone told him he couldn't do anything he would do it just to show he could," said Mary in an endearing Irish lilt that persists after 52 years in America.

Ernie and Mary were among the earliest residents of Ave Maria, moving from Key Largo to buy a house in the Emerson Park neighborhood shortly after the town opened in 2007.

erniemitchell2-450They quickly became part of the fabric of the town. Ernie became the first Grand Knight of Ave Maria's chapter of the Knights of Columbus and volunteered to help with almost anything. Outgoing and vivacious, Ernie got to know almost everyone. (Right, Ernie, 2nd from right, with Fr. Cory Mayer, Jeff Ball and Bobby Oshinsky after receiving an honor for his service to the Knights)

Town resident Daniel Dix remembered Ernie in those days. "They seemed to be everywhere – smiling, joking, and helping others. It felt like Ernie was standing at the door of every Mass my family attended for a good five years and my daughters grew up loving him. He would often ask them, to their delight, 'which one of you took my arm?' He was a true Catholic gentleman and he was an inspiration to me personally." 

Ernie and Mary were particularly fond of the AMU students, particularly in the first five or six years. They would have students over for dinner almost every week and made sure that anyone who wasn't home for holidays like Thanksgiving or Easter knew they were welcome in the Mitchell home.

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One of those students, Tony Thomas, a 2012 graduate of AMU, thought so much of Ernie that he asked him to be his best man when he married another AMU student, Rebekah Angstom, in Minneapolis in 2014."Can you believe it," Mary recalled Ernie saying, "I'm the 90-year-old best man for a 24-year-old." (Left, Ernie and Mary flanking Tony and Rebekah Thomas at their wedding)

The Monday following Hurricane Irma, Ernie fell in his home and broke his hip in three places. He was taken to the hospital but wanted to be home. Saturday, Sept. 23, he died there, his bedside surrounded by many friends who were praying for him.

Funeral services will be at the Ave Maria Catholic Church Saturday, Sept. 30, at 2 p.m. preceded by the rosary at 1:15 p.m. and the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 1:40. Interment will follow at the columbarium at St. Agnes Church and there will be a reception for friends after that at the Pub and Grill of Ave Maria. In lieu of flowers, donations to Knights of Columbus charities are encouraged.

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