Hundreds To Walk With NJ Teen In Place Of Grandpa Lost To COVID

Hundreds To Walk With NJ Teen In Place Of Grandpa Lost To COVID PARSIPPANY, NJ — Hannah Ernst and her grandfather planned to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for their family’s annual excursion. But it never happened, as Cal Schoenfeld, who had been the picture of health, died of COVID-19.

Ernst, a Parsippany teen, will finally walk across the bridge in her grandfather’s honor. And hundreds will do so with her Aug. 7 at the COVID March to Remember.

Schoenfeld, 83, died May 2020. Since then, Ernst has memorialized those lost to the virus with her continuous art project, “Faces of COVID Victims.”

Ernst, 16, has ensured that thousands who died from COVID-19 get remembered as more than just a number. The endeavor started with Schoenfeld created a portrait of her grandfather.

(Hannah Ernst)
“He could just strike up a conversation with anybody,” Ernst said. “He was just that type of guy. His humor was beyond anything. So between being funny and one of the smartest guys you’d ever meet, he was just amazing.”

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Ernst’s artistic abilities don’t come from formal training. She honed them in her grandfather’s basement, where he had an art studio. Some of her best memories include painting for hours with him.

Read more: Parsippany Teen Makes Portraits Of COVID-19 Victims

She describes the way many COVID-19 victims have died as “horrific,” as many, including her grandfather, couldn’t even see their families in person for a final goodbye. Ernst felt an obligation toward both Schoenfeld and those lost to COVID-19 to ensure the pandemic wouldn’t erase them for who they were.

Ernst — a rising junior at the Morris County Vocational School of Technology’s Academy for Health Care — plans to keep creating Faces of COVID Victims portraits until she attends college.

She also made one more pledge, vowing to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge as soon as it felt safe. The walk will honor her grandfather and all lost to COVID-19, along with long-haulers struggling with the aftermath of the virus.

Faces of COVID Victims has partnered with The Yellow Heart Memorial and COVID Survivors to change to put on the walk. Virtual walk and different events around the nation will also take place. Find more here.

“We wanted to make sure we include everybody,” Ernst said. “A lot of people might not be able to fly in for the event. So we have a lot of people who are also taking walks around the country.”

Ernst began the pandemic with a small immediate family — her parents, sister and grandmother and grandfather. Although the virus took her grandfather, she’s now part of something larger: a family of everyone touched by COVID-19.

While that immense family has often been separated by distance, soon at least 500 will unite in an event Schoenfeld’s memory inspired.

“He was everything to me,” Ernst said. “He was just the best grandfather you could ask for.”

See the event here.

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