Goodbye Friend

Ernie may be gone, but he is far from forgotten. Tony pays tribute to the dean of Huntington writers,

A Tribute to Ernie

Ernie Salvatore was laid to rest today with a mass of Christian burial at his beloved church, St. Joes in Huntington. As a friend and disciple of Ernie I offer this tribute.

Monsignor Luciano’s homily at St. Joe’s lauded Ernie not so much for his distinguished career as a writer but rather for his service to God, family and community. “In the end, isn’t that all that matters”, Luciano challenged those in attendance.

My relationship with Ernie began the first day I moved to Huntington back in the fall of 1987. As I picked up the Herald Dispatch, I immediately went to the sports page. There I found Ernie’s column on the Herd with what I would come to know as his catch phrase; namely OUR TOWN. You see Ernie loved his community just as Luciano said.

To me Ernie would quickly become the voice of reason and wit for local sports. Never a homer, but always pro-Herd, his colorful style weaved its way thru his daily prose. That first day I said to myself, “I am not always going to agree with this guy, but I will want to read him”. Ernie had hooked me from day one.

Soon I became a daily reader of Ernie’s and the H.D. What better way to learn about my new home than from the hometown newspaper and one of the premier hometown writers!

From the Herd to the ‘Eers and from the boxing ring to the gridiron, Ernie had a way with words that enticed you to read.

To this day, I wonder how authentic the Mary Ex-model legend really was? Did a knockout model really come to the H.D. and wager money on the Kentucky Derby? Ernie ran with the lore and would pick a Derby horse every year in her honor. Personally, I don’t want to know if the story was true!

Ernie was a big advocate for Herd Saturday night football in September to avoid the heat and make for a fan friendly college football environment. He called me for the climatology of the area before writing his piece on when MU should schedule their home games.

When we met, circa 1993, Ernie instantly took a liking to me as I was a full blooded Italian. We would talk in the old country dialect, two “pisanos” who relished in our heritage.

A downtown Huntington luncheonette, Rocco’s Little Italy, became a favorite dining place for Ernie, me and his best buddy Luigi Narcise early this decade. So popular was this duo that a sandwich was named after them.

The “Signore Ernie & Luigi” hoagie (Italian slang for sandwich) is still a staple at this fourth avenue store. The official menu for the E & L sandwich reads like an Italian deli in South Philly; namely, Capacole (Italian pronunciation Cob-a-gole), Salami, Proscuito, Ham, Olive Oil, Herbs, Roasted Peppers, Provolone, Lettuce, Tomato and Onion. A mouth watering concoction guaranteed to give you heartburn. (Editor’s note: If it doesn’t give you the burps, then it isn’t real Italian).

At my church, Our Lady of Fatima, Ernie and I belonged to a service club where we frequently honored local sports teams and players. In 1996, Ernie asked me to work on a committee to honor former Huntington High track coach Ray McCoy. Ernie wanted the legendary coach to get his just due.

As we constructed the tribute to Coach McCoy, Ernie went at it like McCoy was his father. He meticulously crafted a proclamation that detailed Coach McCoy’s talents at teaching and mentoring your athletes. McCoy may not have been the best known honoree we ever hosted, but he was sure one of the most inspirational speakers we ever had. Ernie had a premonition McCoy would be!

When Ernie’s wife Joanne became sick in the late 1990s, I recall sending a card that read, “like it or not, I have adopted you guys as my surrogate parents”.

Last winter, Marshall’s school of Journalism threw a Testimonial dinner in honor or Ernie. We at WSAZ were proud to be part of this gala night. Governor Manchin and famous novelist Lou Sahadi added a touch of celebrity to the night’s gala events.

So here's challenge to all. The next time you pass the Big Sandy Fountain (on the Soupy Sales Plaza, named after Soupy thanks to Ernie's hard work) and walk inside the Arena. Look up on the Huntington Wall of Fame and think how good it would be to have a bust of Ernie!

Like so many, I am personally a better broadcaster for having known Ernie. Now my challenge is to be more like him with God and community!

Thanks Ernie!

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