BY JACK BARGER ’01
When University of Findlay alumnus and men’s head basketball coach Charlie Ernst ’92 M’06 and Belinda (Roberts ‘02) Ernst, a physician assistant (PA) with Blanchard Valley Medical Associates (BVMA) and the medical coordinator for Mission Possible, first met, it was in Morey Hall on the UF campus. Charlie was working in financial aid, and Belinda was looking to become a student in the Physician Assistant Program. “She came in for a loan and left with an offer for lunch,” quipped Charlie, whose offer to show Belinda around the University and community turned into her joining him as both an Oiler and a life partner. What blossomed for them since has become not just one family of their own, but many families that offer mutual support and guidance in an effort to better the world for everyone.
To say the Ernsts’ lives are colossally busy is surely accurate; to suggest that the many “families” they have built over the years are important to their development and growth as well-rounded human beings, however, is a considerable understatement. Of course, there is the family under their roof in Findlay that includes 17-year old daughter Allison; 15-year old son Sam; their son Roger, eight, whom they adopted from Burundi, a third world country in Africa; and their family dog, Spencer. Yet, it is their additional families – their career family; their church family; and their family at UF, the one they say gave them both “the opportunity to have incredible lives and make the lives of others better through what we’ve chosen to do as careers,” according to Belinda – that has caused their hearts to open exponentially.
As a student at UF, when Belinda got to the part of the PA program where what is known as clinical rotations came around, she was the first UF student invited to Blanchard Valley Medical Associates to complete them. Since the program was only a few years old, doctors weren’t yet familiar with the type of PA students UF was producing, a notion that has since changed with its growth and the success of its students. Dr. Rick Watson, however, took a chance on Belinda, and it has turned into a productive and fruitful working relationship. As a result of her dedication to the work, and of the kinship between Dr. Watson and her, Belinda was hired on after graduation from UF, and the two continue to make a great team working side-by-side still today. “Navigating our way through the pandemic has made all of us even closer. Between working with Dr. Watson in pulmonology and Dr. [Michael] Cairns, whom I’ve worked with in dermatology for about seven years now, and the other people that make up the practice, you could call it a family for sure,” she added.
Charlie has been cultivating a relationship with his UF family for more than 30 years, playing basketball for the Oilers from 1988-1992, spending time as a student campus tour guide, and working in admissions and financial aid before ultimately realizing his true passion for coaching. He counts his vast experience at UF as a boon to both his life and his ability to know the University and educate others about the many benefits of becoming an Oiler. He makes it a regular practice to meet new people at UF and to further the notion of “one big Oiler family,” finding that the more people he knows, the more he knows about the University, and the better he can do his job and mentor his players. “As a coach, stressing family is something that helps to build your team,” he said. “That’s why you come to a place like UF – to find an extended academic family. In fact, I hope every student graduates from here feeling that they’ve found that.”
The Ernsts’ greatest accomplishment, they say, is their own family, and the three children who are a part of it. In 2019, it was put upon their hearts to adopt a child from Africa, a notion that was helped along by their involvement with their church community and Mission Possible, a non-profit organization headquartered in Findlay that focuses on Christian leadership development through education in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Adding Roger, who spoke no English when they brought him home, was a challenge, yet one that they learned a great deal from in the way of communication and how to love. “Actions are much more impactful than words,” explained Belinda. “So, while there was a major language barrier at the beginning, we learned that the way we model our behavior is every bit as important as what we say.”
“While we are very busy, multi-tasking and juggling schedules – and this definitely applies to all of our children – I think we’re modeling sacrifice, time management, and work ethic. We’re teaching far more by example than anything that comes out of our mouths,” Charlie added.
It’s abundantly clear that the Ernsts are one another’s biggest supporters, and that each family they are a part of is infinitely better because of their positions within them. They learn from each other, and because of that, their perspectives on what it means to be successful as a human being is developed using skills borrowed and adapted from one another. “She does an unbelievable job of helping our own family function, and she has a special way about her that makes people feel comfortable,” Charlie said. “I can certainly keep wins and losses in perspective better when considering the nature of her job and working with people who are very sick and, in some cases, dying.”
“And he has a huge heart,” Belinda added. “His job is coaching, but he kind of ministers to the boys, too, like their father away from home. Through him, they learn what it takes to be a committed, loyal, hardworking man.”
Patience, understanding, empathy, and dedication to learning about the lives of the people they affect, young and otherwise, is what Charlie and Belinda Ernst are known for within all of their extended families. Their philosophy is simple: help others. Charlie put it best when he said that UF gave them both the chance to have incredible lives and to make others’ lives better. “We’re pretty happy,” he said. “I don’t really have to tell you what I think about UF; how long I’ve been here speaks to that. If we continue to be healthy and well-grounded, we’ll always be blessed beyond measure right where we are, but be in a position to help people everywhere.”