Sept. 5-11, 2002
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
A couple shares their story of faith and love
PULASKI — When Father John Hogan talks about regular members at St. John the Evangelist in Pulaski, Kenneth and Ernestine Yerdon are inevitably mentioned.
“They’re probably the oldest, most active couple in the church,” Father Hogan said. “They’re such an inspiration. They’re always upbeat and happy. They both have a sense of humor and they can laugh at themselves.”
He’s just a few months away from being 90 and she is 95, and they still attend church weekly. Although Ken isn’t Catholic, he has attended St. John’s with Ernestine throughout their 34 years of marriage.
“I’ve gone every week, unless I’m sick,” Ken said. Although they first met in 1932, a series of coincidences brought them back together, leading to their marriages in 1968. After losing her mother, Ernestine worked with her brothers at the family-owned hotel.
“Next to the hotel was the dance hall. One night I had gone over there, and Ken came in and he asked me to dance,” said Ernestine, recalling Ken as a “sharp looking kid.” “When I saw her that night in the dance hall, I knew someday I would marry her,” Ken said. “She was very attractive and a good dancer.”
After their first meeting, Ken left to work at Crouse Hinds in Syracuse for six years. Before he was drafted for World War II, he married his first wife and they had one child.
During the war, he served five months with the mounted police. “On a Wednesday, I got a phone call saying that my wife, who at the time was pregnant again, was in the hospital. They gave me a dependence discharge,” Ken said.
“If it weren’t for the discharge, I wouldn’t be alive today.” After the war, Ken, his wife, son and baby daughter moved back to the country. In 1965, at the age of 50, Ken’s wife passed away. Meanwhile, after their first meeting, Ernestine continued to work in the hotel.
It was at the hotel that she met her first husband during the war. “A gentleman, who ate at the hotel often, said to me, ‘If I come back from the war a colonel, will you marry me?’ I replied, ‘Just come back.’”
In 1944, at the age of 37, Ernestine married her first husband. He became sick in 1965 and died that same year.
That fall, Ernestine made a trip to Redfield to buy decorations for the family’s hotel, which her brother still owned.
“On the way, we passed Ken and we waved,” Ernestine said. “That’s how it was. Over the years, we had passed each other several times, and gave a wave.”
Ken and Ernestine met on several occasions, but it was not until after two years after Ernestine’s husband’s death that they started seeing each other regularly.
During this time, Ernestine recalls, one week she was unable to maintain a tradition of bringing flowers to her mother’s grave on Sunday.
“He usually went with me. So I told Ken that I couldn’t go that day. I asked him to hold onto the flowers,” Ernestine said. “When I did have the chance to go, the flowers were already there. He had gone by himself.”
Ken explained that he realized how much it meant to Ernestine. He said, “I did it because I didn’t want to lose her again.”
They were married in October of 1968. Over the years, the couple created a way of compromising on their activities.
“I like to hunt and fish, and she likes to shop,” Ken said. “It works out well. We go somewhere I can fish, and she’ll head off to the stores. It’s a great marriage. We like each other and we’re very compatible.”
After Ken had to have a quadruple bi-pass surgery in 1991, the couple moved to their current residence.
Before moving, Ernestine made sure the location was close to a church so that she could attend daily Mass.
“After Mass one week, Father Keeffe said to me that the new priest’s name was Father John Hogan. I later learned he was tall, dark and handsome,” Ernestine said with a laugh. During one of the first Masses with the new pastor, she found out that he could also sing beautifully. “If you didn’t go to church, you would be inspired to go.”
Father Hogan explains that he formed a friendship with Ernestine and Ken through their regular participation at St. John’s Church.
“Ernestine is part of a small-knit group that goes to daily Mass. And after a while, it became easy to recognize when Ken wasn’t doing well. It showed in Ernestine, she would be so anxious,” Father Hogan said.
He added that although Ken has had health problems, the couple remains upbeat and energetic. “They’re such an inspiration. Even when I would visit Ken when he was sick, he always had a great attitude,” Father Hogan said. “He still comes with Ernestine to Mass every week. That’s more than most Catholics. To me, he’s like an honorary Catholic.”