Ernst & Son Hardware Store owner remembered as family man, downtown Lawrence ‘landmark’

photo by: Nick Krug

In this file photo from November 2010, Rod Ernst of Ernst & Son Hardware, 826 Massachusetts St., is pictured with a group photograph that includes his grandfather, Philip Ernst, far left in middle row, which he believes dates back to the early 1880's

Seven days a week, Rod Ernst could be found at his family’s hardware store on Massachusetts Street — usually wearing one of his trademark hats.

Ernst, who died Tuesday at age 84, was a third-generation owner of the iconic and somewhat eclectic Ernst & Son Hardware Store that has been in Lawrence since 1905.

“The hardware store was so important to him and I think it probably kept him going and gave him a few extra years,” said Ernst’s stepdaughter Lynda Allen, also of Lawrence. “He really looked forward to being there, and he knew where everything was.”

A lifelong Lawrence resident, Ernst worked closely with his grandfather and father to give the store the feel of a living museum. The store’s cash register is from 1905, and Ernst insisted on using a simple pen-and-paper system to record purchases.

But beyond the hardware store, where most of the Lawrence community knew him, Allen said family was equally as important to Ernst.

“A lot of people know about the hardware store, but they don’t know he was a great family man, too,” she said. “He was an eligible bachelor in Lawrence for 42 years before he met my mother … He married her and became a father and a grandfather all in one day.”

Ernie Cummings, owner of Kizer Cummings Jewelry in downtown Lawrence, has leased space from Ernst for the last 27 years and known him for much longer.

“Rod was one of a kind. In downtown Lawrence, I would call him a landmark,” he said. “He was someone who always kind of lived in the past. He was a really hardworking guy. He was always there. He wasn’t a gregarious person, but he really did like being around people.”

Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., knew Ernst as both a local merchant and the landlord for the Downtown Lawrence Inc. office, and said it’s difficult to imagine Lawrence without him.

“He reminded you of how different Lawrence was back then. He just had great stories,” she said. “He was very well loved.”

In the short term, Allen said the family is planning on keeping the store open for at least the next six months. However, it will be closed for the remainder of this week.

A visitation is scheduled at the Warren-McElwain funeral home on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m, Allen said. Graveside services are planned for Monday at 10 a.m., she said, followed by a celebration of life ceremony at the First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St., at 11 a.m.

–Editor Chad Lawhorn contributed to this story.