By Chi Nguyen
Neither the legendary hot dogs nor the landmark cart will budge from nearby Jorgenson Hall, but the man standing behind it will retire this Friday after 25 years of service to the Ryerson community and its tastebuds.
Ernie has become a staple on campus, serving up a quick eat for busy students from his perch. “No way!” Davin McMahon responded upon hearing of Ernie’s imminent retirement. The fourth-year geography student is a self-proclaimed loyal Ernie customer.
“It’s all about the cheese at Ernie’s, and of course the Australian chick,” said McMahon. “I wish him a very happy, very long life,” said George Calinoiu, one of three hot dog vendors on campus.
Though they were fierce and heated competitors in the beginning, he said, they became friends over time. “I’m very happy that Ernie is finally getting the rest he deserves. I know better than anyone else just how tiring standing on your feet, day after day, in all kinds of weather, can be.”
The energetic 78-year old will not only be remembered as someone who simply provided a meal, but also as someone who wished to give back to the community that welcomed him with open arms and empty stomachs.
Since 1991, Ernie has been making donations to Ryerson. He later decided to dedicate a day’s worth of earnings to be turned into a bursary each year. “I figured that we were making money off Ryerson and its community, and we wanted to give something back to the students,” he said.
To honour his dedication to Ryerson, President Sheldon Levy and University Advancement VP Adam Kahan presented Ernie with a Certificate of Gratitude on Valentine’s Day. “Noting the uniqueness of his gift gave him and us celebrity status in one of the most prestigious magazines on fundraising… that a donor would be, in fact, a ‘hot dog man,'” Levy said.
“Someone who is this committed to students will be missed,” said G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education Director of Development Nory Siberry “This will mark the end of a chapter in history for Ryerson; after all, the community has been enjoying his company for years.”
Ernie has collected $21,000 that will go towards starting a $25,000 endowment fund. The fund will ensure that Ryerson students continue to benefit from his trademark bursary. He hopes that his collaboration with former Ryerson professor Nelles Van Loon on a musical comedy will help raise the remaining $4,000. “It’ll be like Guys and Dolls, but instead of Times Square, it’ll be Lake Devo,” Ernie said. “We’re going to try to work with him in order to present it at Ryerson,” Levy said.
The former fiber-optics engineer who decided on a radical career change is not yet sure what lies in store for him after Friday. “Maybe I will move to the East Coast, and retire there with my family,” he said. “On the other hand, if I get restless, I might do what I did for Ryerson over there, for the University of New Brunswick.”
But hungry Ryerson students need not worry: his cart will not be leaving campus anytime soon, he assured. “We will get someone to take over,” he said.
“We’ve been feeding Ryerson staff and students for 25 years, we’re not about to stop.”