Judge E.W. Hertz (1922 - 2013)

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Judge E.W. Hertz, age 91, of Menno, SD passed away on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at his home. Funeral services will be 2:00 PM, Friday, December 20, 2013 at Grace Lutheran Church, Menno, with Rev. Theresa Jacobson officiating. Burial will be in the Menno Cemetery, Menno, with Military Graveside Rites by the Rames-Bender American Legion Post #152, Menno, SD and the SDARNG Honor Guard, Sioux Falls, SD. Visitations will begin at 5:00 PM, Thursday, December 19, 2013 at Grace Lutheran Church, Menno, with a prayer service and memory sharing at 7:00 PM. Visitations will resume one hour prior to the service at the church. The Aisenbrey-Opsahl-Kostel Memorial Chapel, Menno, is assisting with service details.

Ernie spent nearly his entire life in his beloved hometown, Menno. He was born in Menno on May 10, 1922, to Paul and Ida (Schmidt) Hertz, the seventh of ten children. The family had little, and he and his siblings quickly learned to not only help provide for the family, but also to make their own fun. Countless hours of shooting hoops in his basement using a coffee can and a tennis ball paid off, as he became a star basketball player in high school. He graduated from Menno High School in 1940.

He attended Yankton College on a basketball scholarship, supporting himself with various jobs, including washing milk bottles for a local dairy. When Ernie was a sophomore, the undefeated Yankton College Greyhounds participated in the National Intercollegiate basketball tournament in Kansas City. The Menno newspaper, the Hutchinson Herald, called Ernie "a consistent score and rebound man" and commented on his role as a center on the undefeated team: "Hertz … has seen action that would have merited him a place among the first five of most college teams."

In 1941, when the attack on Pearl Harbor came, Ernie enlisted in the Coast Guard, partly because he hoped (correctly) it might give him an occasional opportunity to engage in his beloved hobby, fishing. He trained in the signaling school at Manhattan Beach, New York, where Jack Dempsey, the former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, ran the physical fitness program. After stints in Florida and Cuba, he was stationed in England. He and his crewmates on an 83' wooden cutter employed depth-finding equipment with sounding gear to find German mines in the waters around Great Britain.

On June 6, 1944, he witnessed thousands of ships and planes amassing in the air space and waters of the Channel. This was the start of D-Day. Ernie said, "It made me feel pretty good. We had strength on our side and there was no question we were going to win."

Until recently, he rarely spoke of his role in the D-Day operation. His cutter was assigned to pick up survivors. On one occasion, they could only save about 35 out of 200 crewmembers. Sadly, the captain was pinned down by a pole and went down with his ship.

He was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard on November 14, 1945, and returned to South Dakota to resume his education. Always a man of strong faith and unwavering love of Christ, he began to make plans to attend a Lutheran seminary in Ohio. Then a friend's mother asked him to postpone that for a time to help her son. This temporary detour turned permanent, as he enrolled in law school at the University of South Dakota, courtesy of the G.I. Bill. He graduated in 1948.

Ernie's love of dancing meant he sometimes attended area dances, including a fateful one in Scotland, S.D., which led him to the love of his life, Eleanor Mehlhaf, also from Menno and six years his junior. They were married in Menno on December 28, 1947.

Ernie and Eleanor raised four children in Menno while he practiced law in Menno and Olivet, S.D., from 1948 to December 31, 1969. He served 15 years as the Hutchinson County State's Attorney, as well as Menno City Attorney, and attorney for the Menno School Board.

Governor Frank Farrar appointed Ernie as circuit judge of the First Judicial Circuit on January 1, 1970. Judge Hertz became the circuit's presiding judge on July 1, 1975, and served in that capacity until his mandatory retirement in December 1992. For many years thereafter, he practiced law part time, mostly acting as a mediator or arbitrator. He climbed the 24 stairs to his office several times a week until he was nearly 90.

Judge Hertz served as an acting justice for the South Dakota Supreme Court on two occasions: in 1985-1986 and in 1990, and sat with the court many additional times for various cases. He was happiest in his role as a trial judge in the trenches, however, where he garnered respect from all he met. He presided over a number of notorious cases during his tenure.

Judge Hertz served his profession in various capacities, including president of the South Dakota Judges' Association, the chair of the Presiding Judges of the State of South Dakota, and a member of the Judicial Qualifications Commission. He received the Dean Marshall M. McKusick Award from the USD School of Law in 1990. In 2000, he was the first honoree of the Fred J. Nichol Award for Outstanding Jurist from the South Dakota Trial Lawyers Association.

Ernie was a loving and caring father who dearly loved his bride of nearly 66 years, as Eleanor ran the home while supporting him in his professional life. No better role model could be found, as he strived to treat everyone fairly, both in work and family. He was determined to provide for his family what he did not have while growing up.

Never a quitter, he was nonetheless a realist. When it was time to change directions, he did what he needed to do without hesitation. He was scrappy and competitive in a positive way - as a lawyer and judge, he wanted to understand each case better than anyone else, and he worked tirelessly to attain that goal.

Ernie and Eleanor raised four children: Barry (Susan) Hertz of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Barbara Naber of Sioux Falls; Michael of Menno; and Mary (Steve Scarbrough) of Brookings, S.D; and eight dearly-cherished grandchildren: Alisa, Joseph, Geoffrey, and Sarah Hertz; Anndra Begay; and Justine, Molly, and Jenna Scarbrough. He was blessed with six great-grandchildren: Ella, Sophie, Jack, William, Mariama, and Awa.

Ernie was a principled man who always acted in line with his faith in God, instilled in him by his venerated mother, Ida. He served his church in various capacities, including deacon, Sunday School superintendent for many years, and lay preacher when the need arose.

He appeared reserved and serious, yet he possessed an excellent sense of humor, which he frequently signaled with his expressive "Eddie Cantor" eyes. He was a one-time pool shark/snooker champion, a teammate on the talented Hertz baseball teams in Menno, and an avid fisherman. He loved working in his yard and feeding the birds. This eventually led him to embrace the squirrels that visited as well; he made friends with them and taught some to eat peanuts from his hand. He dearly loved the smell of a new car and was known to buy new ones on a regular basis. He taught all of his grandchildren and many Menno children the art of a firm handshake. He read avidly about World War II and was renowned for his large vocabulary. Tender-hearted, he preached patience but realized he sometimes lacked it himself.

Greeting him with open arms in heaven are his parents, Paul and Ida, and his siblings: Gerhardt (Dorothy); Esther (Marvin); Herbert ("Diny") (Bernice); Clara (Marvin); Walter (Enida); Filmore ("Jack"); Elmer ("Lefty"); Carl; and Leo. He will also be reunited with other loved family members, including Theodore and Emelia Mehlhaf; Milt, Jean, and Mark Mehlhaf; Jack Mehlhaf; Arnie Dormaier, Fred Huber, and Charlie and David Hertz.

His family will forever mourn his passing, but cherishes the example he set, the memories that remain, and the knowledge that we will one day see him again. He will be missed; as noted by one of his beloved grandchildren: "More than just a judge, and more than just my grandpa. My heart hurts that the world has lost him: a brother to nine, a husband, a dad to four, a grandpa, and a great-grandpa. A man who lived and learned through history - through the Depression, dust bowl, and was a part of D-Day at Omaha Beach in Normandy. He was a devoted Christian, deeply rooted with morals, an occasional preacher, and my most wonderful Republican with only the best intentions for people. A basketball player, fisher, baseball fan, nap lover, enjoyer of chislic, and anything sweet. He has done so much for my family and the United States, and I am going to miss him too much for words."

Funeral Home
Aisenbrey-Opsahl-Kostel Funeral Home
113 S Park St
Menno, SD 57045
(605) 387-5144
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Published in The Argus Leader on Dec. 18, 2013
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