Ernest Wentcher died in Chicago on September 15th at age 99, of natural causes. He had successful careers as an Agency Manager of Equitable Life Assurance Society from 1946 to 1990, a real estate developer, investor and in 1997 established the Ernest C. Wentcher Educational Foundation, which has provided secondary education scholarship funding of over $3,000,000, awarded to over 200 Chicago Public High School graduates and Oakton Community College students.
Wentcher was born in Novo Siberisk, Siberia, Russia in 1914, where his father, a US Expatriate, ran an International Harvester factory. As the Russian Revolution broke out, Ernie and his family escaped Siberia via the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Vladivostok and eventually arrived in Wichita, Kansas.
From 1921 to 1931, Wentcher attended St. George’s College and College Advanced Schools outside of London, where he was “best boy” (equivalent of school President), leader of his house and Captain of the school Rugby team. He next attended the University of Brussels (taking all exams in French) from 1931 to 1935, and was Captain of the Brussels University Tennis Team.
He became an Equitable Life Insurance agent in Chicago in 1935 and in 1940 enlisted in the US Navy as a Lieutenant, J.G., in naval intelligence. He credited his knowledge of Europe and fluency in French, plus some language ability in Russian, German and Danish, with attaining the commission. In 1944, he was appointed as Commanding Officer of the Port of Brest, France, where he received an award for his outstanding service from Admiral Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations. In 1945, he was appointed Attaché to U.S. Ambassador to Holland.
Ernie returned from the military in 1946 was appointed Agency Manager of the Chicago Equitable office. The following year he married Beatrice (Bea) Lindsay, and until her death in 1996 at age 85, they lived in Evanston, Glenview and eventually a cottage at the Glen View Club.
Ernie was an avid tennis and paddle tennis player and an active member of the Glen View, University and Mid-America Clubs.
Brian Fitzpatrick, a close friend who is President of the Wentcher Educational Foundation, said “Ernie was extraordinarily successful as an investor and one day he decided that rather than just make money, he wanted to make a difference with his money so he created his foundation. He never considered it charity, but as an investment in the future through the education of talented young people.”
According to another friend, John Bitner, “Ernie was a bon vivant, a raconteur, an entrepreneur, could be the life of the party, and was extremely generous, gracious and kind-hearted.”
Ernest Wentcher is survived by his sister, Celeste Chamberlin, age 101, of Highland Park, Illinois and many nieces and nephews. He is predeceased by his wife, Bea, and sisters Jean Hoff and Natasia Detmer.
Friday September 27, 2013, 3:30 PM at Winnetka Congregational Church, 725 Pine Street, Winnetka, Illinois 60093
This obituary was reprinted with permission of Donnellan Family Funeral Home.