Bernard J. Ernst, Jr.: “A Wonderful Life”
Bernard John Ernst, Jr., a 30-year resident of Ortley Beach and Toms River, was born on July 19, 1954, on Staten Island, New York. He was proud of his parochial school education and pursued a pre-med curricula for 3 years, until bitten by the theatrical production bug. He began producing shows, designing sound, lighting, and scenery, as well as constructing sets for Off-Broadway and Broadway shows.
Having his own production company since 1966, theatrical enterprises eventually led to his working and producing television, ballet and rock & roll tours, film, commercials, and trade show exhibits. Known as “BJ” as a youth, professionally he was called “Bernie”. During the 1970’s, Bernie took the role of Production Manager, Tour Manager, lighting designer, set builder, or as Marvin Gaye called him, his “good luck charm” -- Bernie being the last person he passed before going on stage! The tours included such well-known bands as Journey, Kiss (opening for Judas Priest and as a featured act), The Who, Twisted Sister, U2, Pink Floyd (built “The Wall”), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, James Taylor, Jethro Tull – opening for U2, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Blondie, Cat Stevens, Meat Loaf, ABBA, Prince, Sha Na Na, Iron Maiden, REO Speedwagon, Steppenwolf, Todd Rundgren, Genesis, The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Three Dog Night, AC / DC, Barry White, Black Sabbath, and later Ozzy Ozborne, Culture Club, Def Leppard, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, YES, Santana, Cindi Lauper, Wings, and Kenny Loggins.
Bernie was instrumental in renovating CBGB’s in New York City, with the feature act, The Ramons. At times he was on the road 300+ days a year, with performers such as Led Zeppelin, Donna Summer, Jefferson Starship, and Diana Ross (all separately) in Central Park; Carole King at Carnegie Hall; Janis Joplin at the Fillmore East; Talking Heads at CBGB’s and the 2nd Avenue Theater; and Barbra Streisand and Tovah Feldshuh in “Yentl” on Broadway.
In the mid-‘80’s Bernie added to the clientele, American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, Joffrey Ballet, plus television and film productions, such as Billy Graham Crusades, Court TV, Universal Studios Press Junkets, “Pirates of Penzance”, and Nick at Nite. Also in the ‘80’s, he added concert videos to his list of innovations, being among the first to use staging trends still in use today, such as being licensed by the New York City Fire Department in the use of pyrotechnics for Judas Priest’s shows.
Never one to be idle or satisfied with the status quo, Bernie began building trade show exhibits and found many more challenges and design creativity in the venue of the convention business. The varied list of clients included many industries, such as Disney/Buena Vista TV, Ciba-Geigy, DeSisti Lighting, Museum of Modern Art, Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals, The Christophers, Viacom, Westinghouse Broadcast & Cable, and Medtronics. Bernie enlarged the scope by going on to build exhibits for international clients by 1990, such as the German Agricultural Marketing Board, ICEX – The Commercial Office of Spain, Messe Dusseldorf GmbH, Univision, and ITC – Italian Trade Commission.
In 1992 as Bernie’s career was in an upward spiral, he produced a $6.1 million event for the ITC at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan. The 41-day event/exhibition (including set-up and tear-down), a first-time international event, was attended by the public, the mayor, the governor, ambassadors, and over 200 dignitaries. Closing night Bernie responded to a fire alarm in a section of the armory, unrelated to the event, following orders from the New York City Fire Department. The burning material was highly toxic (later tested as “cyanide-like”); however, Bernie was able to contain the blaze in the 145-year-old landmark building, until firefighters arrived. Ultimately, he was credited by the NYFD with saving 200 lives; unfortunately, as the only injured employee during the entire seven-week event, he sustained permanent, progressive injuries as a result.
In the meantime, Bernie had met and married Margaret Shaffer, of Nashville, Tennessee, by 1986. This provided Bernie with yet another genre of musical clients, adding The Nashville Network Cable TV Channel and CMT (Country Music Television), which included productions for Reba McIntyre, Faith Hill, LeeAnn Rimes, Sawyer Brown, Pam Tillis, Tanya Tucker, and Brooks & Dunn.
Trade shows, concert productions and special events filled Bernie’s business schedule, sometimes traveling three weeks-a-month, all over the country, and as far as Europe. Then September 11, 2001, happened, and he decided to reassess his priorities, since his health certainly was not 100% after the fire. Bernie joined Knights of Columbus Council 8415 on November 26, and proceeded to go through all stages of membership by the next year. He was elected Grand Knight in 2003 and appointed District Deputy in 2004. Though plagued by progressive health conditions, due to the 1992 fire, he continued to be innovative by encouraging member, Dave Britanak, to set up Simon’s Kitchen for “anyone who needs a good meal and some fellowship” in Seaside Heights, NJ, one night a week, and adding a second night later.
In 2013, after approximately 30 hospitalizations for various episodes related to the fire, near death in most instances, Bernie formed Knights of Columbus Council 10899 at St. Maximilian Kolbe Roman Catholic Church in Toms River, NJ, becoming its first Membership Director, bringing in 70 members the first year. Twenty-three more were added the second year and grew to 120 members by its third year. Bernie was also a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Assembly 2143 (Brick, NJ) and served as Faithful Navigator for two separate terms. Always on the lookout for organizations, or someone, to help, he helped develop many of the Knights’ fundraising projects/programs (of which 100% of donations go to a charity): The Open Door Pregnancy Care Center (purchase of an ultrasound machine); Deborah Hospital; New Jersey Alzheimer’s Association; Special Olympics; POAC (a much-needed program for autism services); and New Jersey Right to Life.
With the design of the website for the State Council, Bernie was appointed Webmaster in 2005. He and Margaret had become co-owners of alto.de New Media-USA, a web design company formed with partners in Germany in 1999. Even through all the physical health roadblocks, Bernie’s work ethic remained “24/7 -- We Never Close!”
The highlight of Bernie’s “wonderful life”, career and travels was his 2016 invitation to be a part of a Knights of Malta pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. He returned home in better physical health, in the firm belief that the Grotto’s healing waters made it possible. FYI: The doctors in 1995 had given him only 2 more years to live.
Bernie passed away peacefully on Friday, April 21, 2023. He is preceded in death by his parents, Bernard J.,Sr. and Mary (Tierney) Ernst, his sister, Mary Ellen and his niece, Kristin Walker. He will be greatly missed by his loving family: his wife of 37 years, Margaret (Shaffer) Ernst; son, Anthony, and his wife, Ruth Grisham of Altamont, NY; daughter, Melanie, and her husband, Michael Pulik of Forked River, NJ; his sisters: Susan and her husband, Raymond Hillers; Jane and her husband, Jeffrey Harris; Lisa and her husband, Dr. Joseph Castellano; brother-in-law, Henry Walker; and four cherished grandchildren, who affectionately know him as Granddad: Aria Grisham, Chloe Grisham, Michael Pulik, Jr. and James Pulik.
The family will receive relatives and friends on Thursday, April 27 from 4-8pm at the Timothy Ryan Home for Funerals, 145 St. Catherine Blvd., Toms River, NJ, and on Friday, April 28, 2023, from 10am to 11am, a Mass of Christian Burial to follow at 12pm at St. Maximilian Kolbe RC Church, Toms River, NJ. Committal will be held privately. Donations can be made in lieu of flowers to The Open Door Pregnancy Care Center, Tunnels to Towers, and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Condolences may sent to the family by visiting www.ryanfuneralhome.com.
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