Memorial honors community 'can man'


Humble. Smart. Outgoing. Different.

Those are the words family and friends used to describe Ernst Lucas at a Saturday memorial service held in the Union.

Lucas, better known to the MSU community as "Ernie the Can Man," died in January at the age of 68.

Lucas' brothers, Jack Lucas of West Hartford, Conn., and Alexander Lucas of Rochester, Minn., began organizing the memorial service following the outpouring of memories and support they received regarding their brother.

"We're here to celebrate Ernie's meaningful life, as well as mourn his death," Alexander Lucas said. "Everyone seemed to know Ernie and everyone had a different perspective."

About 40 people attended the ceremony. Empty cans and bottles were brought in Ernst Lucas' honor, and the money will be donated to MSU.

Manal Karadsheh, a telecommunication, information studies and media senior, helped the brothers coordinate the ceremony.

"His passing left a deep impression on too many people to count," she said at the beginning of the service. "I feel it's a great loss within the community."

The Rev. Kelly Sprinkle from the Peoples Church, 200 W. Grand River Ave., officiated the service.

"Ernie was a mystery and one that we've heard legends about," Sprinkle said during the service. "Ernie chose to live a different kind of life. I encourage you not to pass judgment.

"Difference is simply different."

The brothers talked about his life, from a story about the family fleeing Austria in the 1940s to tales about growing up in East Lansing. Ernst Lucas was the youngest of four children. His sister, Anne Fonken, died in 2002.

Jack Lucas said his brother wanted to "start at the top," and "be his own boss." Ernst Lucas saw collecting cans as an opportunity to live life the way he wanted.

"People wondered if he was educated," Alexander Lucas said. "Once they spoke to him, they certainly knew he was."

Ernst Lucas graduated from East Lansing High School in 1953. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree from MSU in 1957 and spent a semester in medical school at the University of Michigan.

Dick Hanna attended high school with Ernst Lucas and remembered him as one of the "smart kids."

"I never heard anybody say anything negative about him," Hanna said. "I don't remember him having enemies."

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