This is the eulogy I delivered for my father, Ernie Rosenfeld, who passed away on June 5, 2021. He was 94 years old.
If you wanted to understand 20th century US history through the eyes of someone who experienced it first-hand, well, I’d suggest skipping past the JFKs, Frank Sinatras, and Billie Jean Kings, and just go straight to my dad. Ernie didn’t just live the American Dream — he absolutely inhabited it.
Dad was the son of immigrants who escaped persecution in the old countries of Poland and the Ukraine for the promised land of Brooklyn. Born in 1927, he experienced enough of the Great Depression to recall the years when he and 13 other family members lived together in his grandfather’s modest two-bedroom, one-bathroom house on Chester Avenue.
Dad was a product of New York City public schools, which he absolutely loved and which loved him back. An excellent student—salutatorian at PS130—he still managed to squeeze in hours of football, basketball, and softball at Prospect Park’s Parade Grounds before graduating from Brooklyn Tech in 1945.
Before he’d finished high school, Dad enlisted in the US Navy, trained as a radio operator, made Petty Officer Third Class, and was stationed in Pearl Harbor — fortunately, for us all, after V-J Day. Dad lost many classmates to the war, and knew he’d have been cannon fodder for the Invasion of Japan if not for the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Thanks to the GI Bill, Dad was the first in his family to graduate college, starting at Brooklyn College and finishing with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Michigan. While he didn’t exactly love engineering, he was always a proud Wolverine.
While at UM, he met and fell in love with our mom, Arline. A Bronx girl, mom was warned to be wary of the “Brooklyn sharpie” from a family of very modest means, but fell for him nonetheless. They would have been married 69 years this June 28.
With little experience but with Mom’s support, Dad started a business, IFR, which went on to become a great success, employing nearly 100 people. Given all the jobs he created, Dad always insisted that the GI Bill was a great investment in guys like him. And, once he made his fortune, he absolutely never forgot where he came from: he was the too-rare CEO who wanted universal healthcare, great education, a social safety net, and equal opportunities for everyone.
Mom and Dad started their family in the early 50s, joined the/ suburban migration in ’57 with a move to Rockland County, and eventually made their way to Westchester County. Along the way they had five sons (Phil, Ed, Ethan, Mike, and me). Our family followed the template of the times: Dad had disagreements with Mom over her desire to work outside the home and, later, battles with his sons over long hair, pot-smoking, and authority in general. But he grew immensely over the years, always remained open-minded and—arguably—became a feminist.
Dad retired at 65, handing the reigns of his beloved business to his sons. He told me recently that he retired not because he wanted to, but because he thought he was supposed to, never expecting to live nearly 30 more years. He really loved that business. But Dad moved down to Florida like so many of our tribe, golfed like mad, played tennis, traveled, contributed to even more charities than we’d realized, and loved and took care of Mom.
Only a few months ago, he was still driving, golfing, and making his sons jealous at his full head of hair. He wasn’t expected to make it to 94—not only was his body wearing down, but Dad had already miraculously survived a near-death experience twenty years earlier. His long life is a testament to his strength and resolve, and a wonderful gift to all who knew him. Dad really was strong.
And fierce — you didn’t want to be the object of his volcanic anger. In fact, not long before he was caught, David Berkowitz — one of America’s most notorious serial killers—made the mistake of parking in our dad’s reserved spot one too many times. After a confrontation with Ernie, the Son of Sam apologized, shrank away, and never made the same mistake again.
But Dad was also fiercely loyal and fiercely generous. He was and remains a model for us in so many ways:
- Dad was constantly growing and improving, learning to control his anger, becoming a more supportive husband and, more broadly, a believer in equality and equity for women. He came from a series of notoriously difficult fathers, going back at least three generations, but managed to do better and do well, giving his own sons the tools and momentum to be good fathers.
- He was open-minded and interested in the world. He read extensively and traveled far from Brooklyn. Dad’s willingness to try a new and unfamiliar business concept put him out ahead of the pack, and gave me the courage to do the same in my work.
- And he was generous almost to a fault, giving of himself both to an astounding array of charities and to the people in life who were in need. Dad never, ever forgot where he came from.
Thank you Dad for a life so well-lived. You’ve left your mark on us all; and as much as we’ll miss you, you’ll always be with us.