Honoring A Trailblazer

Pictures of Mary Lou Ernst Through the Years

Mary Lou Ernst was 19 in 1962 when she moved from her family home to the Bethphage campus in Axtell.

Her family was told to not contact her for 30 days so that she could adjust. When they did call and ask if she was ready to come home for a weekend, they did not expect the response.

“I said, ‘Give me another week. I’m having so much fun.’”

She was one of the first children with a disability to go through the public school system in her home town of Lexington. There, Mary Lou knew many people and had many friends. But as she watched them go away to college, she became lonely. Her parents recognized that living at home was no longer the best situation for her and their search for an alternative led them to Bethphage. Right away, Mary Lou felt at home.

“I worked with small children first in the different buildings,” she said, “taking them out on walks and taking them to the playground. Then I did secretarial work.”

But her horizons continued expanding. When Bethphage expanded to community housing in nearby Holdrege, Mary Lou was one of the first to move. She moved into a group home and began working in retail at the Corner Nugget (a thrift shop run by Bethphage). Her success fueled the desire for further independence.

“I decided after I lived in a group home and worked at the Corner Nugget, it was time for me to find my own place. I went out looking for a place and found an apartment of my own.”

She moved into her own apartment and also decided to try different jobs, including working several years in the school cafeteria. When budget cuts forced the school to cut her position, she found herself back at the Corner Nugget, where she works afternoons as a cashier and clerk. She tried different apartments, too, but now has found a place that she loves.

“I’ve lived in four different places,” she said. “This is the best … it is really close to the grocery story, I can walk over to the grocery store and the dollar store. I can walk to work. This is a very good location.”

Mary Lou has an active life. She enjoys attending sporting events and has many friends with whom she spends time, enjoying meals out, and community and school events. She loves to travel, especially flying, and goes to visit her brothers in Colorado at least twice a year. She has visited Hawaii, Germany, London and Paris and has taken cruises. Her father, now deceased, once joked that he needed to make an appointment to come see her because she is so busy.

In 2002, Mary Lou made another large step when she began serving on the Bethphage Board of Directors. She continued that service after Bethphage and Martin Luther Homes united as Mosaic. She was a pioneer, being the first person who had ever received services from the organization to serve on the board. As a board member, she was able to make visits to locations all across the country to learn about Mosaic’s work.

Former Mosaic President and CEO David A. Jacox became good friends with Mary Lou through the years and his admiration for her is strong. He also became good friends with her parents, who, with pride, once said that Mary Lou had accomplished more with what she had been given than had their other children.

She credits Mosaic for helping her do it.

“Without Mosaic, I wouldn’t be where I am right now,” Mary Lou said. “Without their encouragement for me and helping me along … they’ve always been very supportive of me.”

Mosaic is also very grateful for being a part of Mary Lou’s success.

This story originally appeared in "The Reason We Exist: Stories of Mosaic's Call to Serve," which honored Mosaic's 100th anniversary of providing services. To request a copy, please email info@mosaicinfo.org.


What an inspiring and amazing story!

Hello Mary Lou! One of my favorite people!!

Way to go Mary Lou! You are a wonderful person and I am so happy I got to work with you. You are very loved. Such an amazing light whenever you are around. You will be missed. Much love, Michelle Baker

Congratulations on your retirement Mary Lou! You've earned it - enjoy!

What a big accomplishment! Enjoy your retirement.

CONGRATS Mary Lou on a job well done!! Have fun in your retirement.....hopefully lots of traveling will be involved in that fun :-) Take care!

Enjoy you retirement!! So sorry I can't come to your party. Am going out of town tomorrow. We will have to get together. Miss You!

Mary Lou, I loved working with you. You always brightened my day.

So glad you finally get more time to travel Mary Lou. Hope u have fun this summer!

Love you, Mary Lou! You are an amazing woman!

I miss you Mary Lou and i am so happy to have worked with you. I will come to Holdrege and have lunch with you soon. Maybe Roxie would be able to join us. Enjoy your time at home and everything you want to do.

Mary Lou, we lived south of your Mom and Dad, across the street from Millers. You may remember that I was on the city council with your Dad. They were always so proud of you and your accomplishments. I can only imagine how Dutch and Rene feel now!

I enjoyed working with Mary Lou at the opportunity center in the late 80's early 90's in Holdrege. Love her to pieces!! What a great article about an amazing lady!!

Thank you for this update on a wonderful hs classmate, Mary Lou Ernst! So nice - but not surprising - to hear that Mary Lou has continued to excel & achieve. Such a lovely person! Used to look forward during our senior year to being in the library when Mary Lou was there: I think we shared a study hour time, or perhaps she was volunteering as a library club member. Congratulations on an outstanding career, Mary Lou!

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