December 30, 1919 – August 4, 2020
Ernest Wertheim, a lover of plants, landscape design, mountains, and self improvement left his family and an incredible number of friends on August 4, 2020, 100 years 7 months and 4 days after his birth on December 30, 1919. Ernest grew up in Berlin, Germany in a middle class Jewish family. As a young man he worked studying and caring for the plants on his aunt and uncles estate. Caring for their expansive garden cemented his love for plants and aided his decision to study Landscape Architecture. He obtained a degree in Landscape Architecture while still a teenager.
His happy innocent childhood abruptly ended when Hitler, along with his Nazi regime came to power. He watched Jewish families torn apart as their family members were kidnaped, tortured, and taken to Concentration Camps. This included his father and mother who died in the camps.
Ernest’s parents convinced him and his 2 brothers to leave Germany. George, the youngest was sent to England and later adopted by an English family. Werner, his older brother settled in Chile.
Ernest, at 19 years of age with $50 in his pocket, escaped Germany for the United States. Many years passed before the brothers were reunited. They never saw their parents again.
Ernest arrived in New York City in December 1938 and met up with his sponsor who had promised him lodging and help finding work. As things go this was not a good fit for Ernest, so he traveled west to San Francisco where he spent time homeless in Golden Gate Park. Ernest was educated and motivated which helped him find a job assisting with the care of the Strauss Estate in Atherton. He was frugal, dedicated to his employers, and an extremely hard worker. He moved to Los Angeles where he found work. It was here, at a clients dinner party, that he met Margrit Odenheimer. Margrit became his love and lifelong partner. They married in 1943 while he was stationed in Oklahoma. At this time Ernest was in the army becoming an intelligence officer. He was supposed to be sent to Germany as he had some first hand knowledge of the area and Hitler’s plans which included the fact that he knew Hitler planned to invade Poland. However, he ended up being sent to the South Pacific where he worked with General MacArthur assisting with the fight against the Japanese.
Upon his return to civilian life he and Margrit moved to San Francisco where he opened his landscape architectural office. In 1948 their first son, Andy, was born and in 1951 their second son, Rick, was born. Ernest, and his firm Wertheim, Van Der Ploeg, and Klemeyer, became internationally known as the premier designers of Garden Centers (nurseries that Ernest reinvented into more than just businesses that sold plants). He traveled the world giving lectures and designing garden centers. His accomplishments can be seen in England, Canada, South Africa, Italy, Germany, and in many U.S. cities. Ernest became close friends with his clients. He loved working for and educating his clients and colleagues. He was never late for a meeting. Tardiness was a pet peeve of his. He loved socializing and telling stories at parties. His thirst for reading and learning never ended. He was a straight arrow and had no vices that his family observed. He did not smoke nor drink.
In 1963 he and Margrit accomplished one of their dreams. They built in a family vacation home in Alpine Meadows. They both loved the mountains and skiing. Ernest became a founding member of the Bear Creek Planning Committee (volunteer architectural review committee in Alpine Meadows). He can be credited with creating a cohesive plan for the Alpine Meadows community.
Alpine Meadows is loved by many who have Ernest Wertheim to thank for helping retain this beautiful valley for those that live and enjoy it today.
As if all of the above were not enough, Ernest wrote an incredible book describing his life. He wrote the book in his 90’s. The book, Chasing Spring has been loved by all who have read it.
Ernest’s colleagues have given him the title of “The Pioneer of Garden Center Design”. His legacy is his contribution to the evolution of the garden center.
His devoted team of caretakers led by Marianne Maka and Narissa Leyran enabled Ernest to live comfortably in his Alpine home. The Wertheim family will be forever grateful for their kind and loving care.
We loved our father who is survived by his sons Rick and Andy, his grandson Brian, and his daughter in law Lin.
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