Ernie began his education at Culver Military Academy in Indiana. Graduating in 1949 as class Valedictorian, Ernie learned both discipline and goal setting. These became guiding principles throughout his life. From Culver, Ernie was accepted into Princeton University. He majored in biology and graduated in 1953, Magna Cum Laude.
After graduating from Princeton, Ernie served in the U.S. Army with a posting in Austria as First Lieutenant and Executive Officer of C Battery, 510 Field Artillery Battalion. He shared stories of flying reconnaissance and spotting missions. Ernie and his pilot flew in a small two-seater prop driven plane, often swooping down low to observe the remote mountainous terrain. This service to his country grew into a lifelong interest in military history, strategy and a fondness for collecting toy soldiers.
Upon returning to the U.S. as a military reservist and using his GI Bill, Ernie enrolled in the graduate program in Zoology at UCLA. He soon became interested in innate animal behavior patterns at a time when animal behavior was still a fledgling discipline of Zoology. This discipline was popularized by Nobel Laureate Konrad Lorenz in the 1950's. Ernie's doctorate thesis focused on the shell selection behavior of hermit crabs. These little crabs depend on finding the right shell for their survival.
At this time, Ernie received a unique invitation from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to visit Eniwetok Atoll Marine Biological Laboratory, located in the Marshall Islands. With his fellowship from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, he studied coconut crabs and the possible storage of radioactive particles in the coconut crabs (a regular food source for the Marshallese).This provided Ernie with his first opportunity to study the fauna of a tropical coral reef and in 1960 led to an offer to teach an introductory zoology course at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa.
Also in 1960, having met his future wife, Ilze, at UCLA, and with their courtship ongoing while writing his PhD thesis, the young couple set their wedding date for 1961. As newlyweds they flew to the Netherlands, where Ernie continued his post-doctoral studies with a fellowship from the National Science Foundation and continued expanding his knowledge and contacts in the field of animal behavior and ecology.
Returning to Hawaii in 1962, Ernie was offered a split faculty position at UH, and a field laboratory on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay. Ernie and Ilze started a family and began building a home on the Bay. Ernie delighted in being able to "run" down Kaneohe Bay in his Boston Whaler to the Coconut Island lab.
Ernie's close connection and love of Kaneohe Bay led to his many efforts to protect the Bay. Ernie pushed efforts to ban single stroke watercraft like jet skis from certain areas, to protect the coral reefs and marine life we all enjoy today. His voice and willingness to be heard was often met with resistance, and if not strident objections, from short sighted developers seeking to allow sewage disposal into the Bay. Ultimately successful, Ernie helped limit the negative environmental impact. Of special note is Hanauma Bay. Starting in 1964, Ernie and his zoology students began documenting the environmental and fisheries decline at Hanauma Bay. His report was instrumental to Hanauma Bay's designation as Hawaii's first Marine Life Conservation District in 1967. You can find recognition of his efforts at Hanauma Bay today.
On a world stage, Ernie engaged and worked with a wide circle of colleagues and friends to organize international conferences, help raise the recognition of the University of Hawai'i as a place of learning, and to promote the importance of a healthy marine ecology to institutions, world organizations and governments from the Pacific to Europe to the Middle East. Ernie was awarded several professional honors, and he filled leadership positions in the scientific community. He was president of the Animal Behavior Society in 1975, and the Hawaii Academy of Science, 1985-1986. He was director of the Mid-Pacific Research Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy, Eniwetok, Marshall Islands) from 1977 to 1980. The University of Hawaii bestowed on him a Faculty Performance Award in 2000 and elected him to the rank of an emeritus Professor in 2002.
Ernie is survived by his wife, Ilze. For over 60 years of marriage, they shared great adventures, travelling the globe together and always interested in learning and exploring with much love and laughter, always on the lookout for their next "let's go" challenge.
As an avid diver, Ernie dove all over the world, from the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea to the wrecks off Truk, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and all throughout the South Pacific. He prided himself on walking into all the seas and oceans of the world on his hands! Not limited to his love of the tropics, Ernie loved to ski and enjoyed the mountains. Climbing Mt. Hood in Oregon as a young man, Ernie said that if he hadn't decided to study crabs and fish, he would have studied mountain sheep. He has passed down his immense love of nature and respect for animals, as well as his enjoyment of diving and skiing to his children and grandchildren.
Ernie is survived by his children Theresa "Tessa" McFarland (husband Bill) and Hans Reese (wife Michele). Ernie adored and delighted seeing his seven grandchildren, Ernst, Nicholas, Colleen, Edward, Kate, Theodor and Maximilian. He imparted to each his love of nature, the importance of animals, and being a family. Ernie is survived by his sister Alma Gray in Montecito, California, and many nieces, nephews and cousins scattered across the states. Ernie was preceded in death by his son Peter Ernst Reese, his father Dr. Hans H. Reese, his mother Theresa S. Reese, and his sister Sibyl Millner.
Dearest Ernie, We love you, We remember you, We miss you! And we will not dwell on what you left behind, but more on what you made possible! Thank you!
Donations in Ernie's memory may be made to the Waikiki Aquarium. https://www.waikikiaquarium.org/support/donate/
Arrangements Provided By: Oahu Mortuary