Ernst William Schoen-Rene, age 86, beloved husband, father, uncle, retired teacher, poet, songster, drama and movie critic who has lived in Kingston, New York for the past seventeen years, died peacefully, October 27, 2023, with his wife Betty and family beside him, of complications of Alzheimers. He was born October 13, l937 in Milwaukee, WI to the late Otto Eugene Schoen-Rene and Mary McMahon Schoen-Rene.
Ernst grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts and moved to Geneva, NY in 1945 where his father had become Head of the English Department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Ernst attended Geneva’s public schools, graduating from high school in 1955, fully involved in academics, theatre, music, track, cross-country, and school publications and student government. Ernst sang in the choirs at Trinity Episcopal Church, further honing his music and drama skills. In September of 1953 Ernst’s mother died after a long, painful illness. For the three following summers, Ernst would be a counselor at Camp Dudley in Westport, NY leading hikes in the Adirondacks and caught up in the many skits and shows staged at the camp. His time there bolstered his lifelong love of the Adirondacks and enthusiasm for theater.
Another passion for Ernst evolved during his years at Yale University, 1955-59. There he joined the Yale Russian Chorus, originally an offshoot of Yale’s Russian Club. During the summers, beginning in 1957, the chorus traveled to the Soviet Union, one of the first American groups to do so. At first they gathered in parks and after singing Russian folk and liturgical music as well as American spirituals they were surrounded by curious and excited people. In 1962, having rented five VW Microbuses, the Chorus visited and performed in many European cities, including Berlin where they gathered to sing Mozart’s Ave Verum at the Berlin Wall after a young man had been shot trying to climb over it. For the rest of his life, Ernst would join and sing with the chorus whenever he could.
In 1964, Ernst married Betty Sherk, whom he had met when visiting his sister’s dorm at Smith College. After their wedding, they moved to Seattle where Ernst would complete a PhD in English. From Seattle, he joined California State University of Chico’s English Department, where he became an admired and well-liked teacher who taught a broad range of subjects and students. During the thirty-five years Ernst and Betty lived in Chico, he volunteered in elementary school classrooms, for which he wrote child-friendly musical versions of Oedipus, Macbeth, The Second Shepherds’ Play and Hamlet. He also wrote catchy lyrics to well-known classical music which he taught to the kids. He went to every play, film and classical music concert he could, and he wrote music reviews for the local weekly newspaper, and music for a production of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. Student commendations led to several awards, including, ‘Outstanding Teacher’ at Chico State and an ‘Outstanding Advisor Award’ as well. A versatile generalist, he taught more different classes at Chico State than anyone else ever had: humanities, period courses, classes for future teachers and across-the-genre classes with colleagues.
Ernst was brimming with ideas. He could fix almost anything. He loved talking with friends, especially those caught up in teaching. He loved to travel and had very itchy feet. He designed and sewed dresses for Betty. He made pieces of furniture and wonderful toys. He also had a terrific sense of humor and made puns constantly.
Most summers he and Betty and their two sons drove across the US visiting family and friends along the way. Once in the Northeast, they stayed in the Adirondacks, where they eventually purchased a tiny log cabin to which Ernst added a room. At retirement, Ernst and Betty eagerly moved east, happily settling in Kingston, New York. There he participated in poetry gatherings, ASK play readings, the Saugerties Lifespring Program (where he presented courses in art,) the Musical Society of Kingston, and was active in Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Episcopal Church. He and Betty traveled extensively in England, Germany and Finland and to the West Coast.
In addition to his wife, Betty, he is survived by his children, Ernst R. Schoen-Rene and his wife, Jill Diamond, of San Francisco, CA, Erich Schoen-Rene and his wife Shelly of New Paltz, NY, grandchildren, Laszlo Diamond, Neva Schoen-Rene, and Oscar Schoen-Rene; his sister, Juliet Baker and her husband Paul Mazur of Northport Maine, two brothers, Karl Schoen-Rene and his wife Candace of Colchester, CT, and Augustus Schoen-Rene of Geneva, NY.
There will be a Memorial Service for Ernst at 11 am, Saturday, November 18 at Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Episcopal Church on 30 Pine Grove Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401. The burial will take place at Wiltwyck Rural Cemetery immediately afterwards and will be followed by a reception in the Parish Hall.
Donations may be made to:
Performing Arts of Woodstock (www.performingartsofwoodstock)
Woodstock Symphony Orchestra (www.woodstocksymphony.org)
Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake (www.pendragontheatre.org)