Striving for Excellence: The Story of Ernest Haight

Ernest Haight ‘51 (August 5, 1924 – June 1, 2018) was born in the midst of the Great Depression. Having joined the Army in 1945, he served with the post-World War II troops in Tokyo, Japan and always aimed for excellence. His expectation for himself, as well as others, was this: Do the best that you can with what you have been given. And that he did.  

Born to Bill, a welder, and Marge, a bank teller, Ernie utilized his GI Bill from the military to attend Hope College in 1947. While at Hope, he not only earned a degree in mathematics, but he also met his future wife, Kathleen Hagstron ‘51 Haight. They married in Dimnent Chapel. He then went on to earn his master’s degree in Advanced Mathematics from the University of Nebraska. 

Excellence. 

Already, being the only member in his family to earn any degree, let alone an advanced one, showed Ernie’s will to excel in life.

He went on to spend the entirety of his adulthood working in the aerospace industry — a stressful job, one that wasn’t always enjoyable, but Ernie persisted. He ended up being part of a seven-man team to design the heat shields for the Project Mercury and Project Gemini space capsules.

Ernie believed that a good worker should be able to not only design a product but also — and more importantly — get that product to actually work in the real world. And work they did. Those shields sustained the lives of each astronaut during their missions. They helped the projects succeed. 

Ernie always regarded his education — both from Hope College and from the University of Nebraska — to be the foundation for all that he was able to achieve in his professional life. His final gift, which represents his total salary from nearly three years of his working life, has established the Ernest Haight ‘51 Summer Research in Engineering Fund. It also provided the resources necessary for the Engineering Lab Renovation Fund. 

His heart for Hope College has been beautifully reflected through this generous gift. 

At age 93, Ernest Haight was asked to look back on his life, to which he responded, “For a kid who grew up during the Great Depression, with a welder for a father and a bank teller for a mother, I far exceeded all expectations — even my own. I did the best that I could with what I had.” 

May we all strive to do the best that we can with what we have been given! 

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