Dr. Carl Henry Ernst passed away on Saturday, November 3, 2018 at the age of 80 years. Born in Lancaster on September 28, 1938, he was the son of the late George Henry and Evelyn Mae (Schlotzhauer) Ernst, and the husband of Dr. Evelyn Marie (Chasteen) Ernst of Leola. He was a member of Covenant United Methodist Church.
Dr. Ernst grew up in the Seventh Ward of Lancaster and graduated from J.P. McCaskey High School in 1956. He went on to earn the B.S. degree from Millersville University in 1960, the M.Ed. from West Chester University in 1963, and the Ph.D., in Vertebrae Zoology, from the University of Kentucky in 1969.
His teaching career began at Hempfield High School, where he taught biology and coached wrestling. While doing research in Lancaster County for his Ph.D., he taught biology courses at Elizabethtown College. Dr. Ernst also taught vertebrae zoology courses and served as the curator of the Vertebrae Animal Collector at the University of Kentucky. Upon leaving the University of Kentucky, he first taught zoology courses at Southwest Minnesota State University, and then for 32 years at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. There, Dr. Ernst taught graduate vertebrae zoology and ecology courses, and served as Chairman of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy. During his tenure at George Mason University as a full Professor of Biology, he directed the graduate degrees of 51 Master’s students and 20 Ph.D. students, and was named the Distinguished Professor of Herpetology by the University in 1986.
Dr. Ernst served as a Research Associate in the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles, Department of Zoology, Smithsonian Institution from 1972 until his death. An accomplished researcher on snakes and turtles, he published over 240 scientific papers in peer-reviewed science journals and authored 11 books. Two of his books earned national honors. He was awarded the Outstanding Publication of the Year in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation by the Wildlife Society for two editions of “Turtles of the United States” in 1972 and 2011; equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize in this field, and a singular honor to be awarded twice. The 1992 book, “Venomous Reptiles of North America,” was named the Natural History Book of the Year by the American Library Association. Several of his other books were also nominated for national awards. During his research career, Dr. Ernst discovered and named five turtles and a parasitic worm new to science, and was recognized as an international expert on turtles. The Escambia Map Turtle, Graptemys ernsti, was described and named in his honor by one of his former graduate students.
Other honors bestowed upon him during his career included being named a full member of the research association, The Society of the Sigma Xi, in 1968 while still a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, only the second student at the University to be so honored with full membership. He became a Fellow of the Herpetologists’ League in 1971, and in 1992 was named the first Distinguished Alumni Fellow in the Sciences at Millersville University. His career was capped by being nominated as International Scientist of the Year in 2003.
After his retirement from George Mason University in 2004, he returned to Lancaster County and became heavily involved with his church, and served on several Alumni committees at Millersville University. A popular speaker, he gave several talks on venomous snakes and turtles at Millersville University and the North Museum. He received Distinguished Alumni Awards from both McCaskey High School and Millersville University.
In addition to his wife, surviving Dr. Ernst are his daughters Lydia Ann, wife of Paul W. Dengel, Lynbrook, New York; and Carol Marie-Ernst, wife of Terry Creasap, Stafford, Virginia; and his grandchildren, Emma St Clair Robertson, Luke Henry Robertson, Harrison Wells Dengel, Hayden Augustus Dengel, Brennan Taylor Creasap, and Brayden Tyler Creasap.
Carl was a loving husband, devoted father, and proud grandfather. He lived his life by example, pursuing excellence in all things with determination and persistence. Gifted with a phenomenal memory; a remarkable taxonomic mind; and a unique ability to understand people, places, and events in the larger context of time and history; he valued each minute of his life and was a worthy steward of his time and talents. He will be greatly missed.
Friends and family are respectfully invited to attend a funeral service for Dr. Ernst on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 11:00 AM at Covenant United Methodist Church, 110 N Mulberry St, Lancaster, PA 17603. Friends may greet the family from 10:30 AM until the time of service. Interment will be private at the convenience of the family. Flowers may be sent directly to the church, and memorial contributions may be made to the McCaskey High School Alumni Association Fund, 445 N Reservoir St, Lancaster, PA 17602.