Activist Ernie Hunsperger, 78, died April 9 at Elevate Rehabilitation Center in Chicago due to complications from his throat cancer treatments.
Hunsperger was born March 31, 1942 in Glens Falls, New York, where he spent his childhood. He graduated with both a BA and master's degree in music from Pottsdam University.
Hunsperger then taught music for a number of years at a high school on Long Island, but became disillusioned with teaching because the students did not appreciate classical music, which was one of his passions.
Switching to the public relations field, Hunsperger worked for a firm in Manhattan for a time where one of his clients was Leonard Bernstein. He then became a furniture salesperson for B. Altman & Co. in New York, and continued to sell furniture at Marshall Field's after he moved to Chicago in 1990.
While working at Marshall Field's, Hunsperger sold expensive furniture to clients such as the Blagojevich family, opera star Catherine Malfitano and Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne. Byrne was notorious for returning purchases, but Hunsperger proudly told friends that "Mayor Byrne never returned anything I sold her."
His longtime partner Rick Garcia told Windy City Times that Hunsperger would say to him "I am not enough of a salesman to wheel and deal," which is why he stuck to selling the expensive furniture to willing buyers.
Hunsperger retired in 2007 and spent the next 15 years supporting Garcia as they advocated for LGBTQ equality in Illinois.
The couple met at a bar in Manhattan 40 years ago. They lived together in New York City before Garcia moved to Chicago in 1986 and Hunsperger followed.
"For four decades Ernie was my best friend, companion, comforter and my rockthe one who challenged me and the only one who could tell me no," said Garcia.
Hunsperger is survived by Garcia; his brother Dan Hunsperger; sister-in-law Evelyn; Garcia's siblings who adored him; many nieces and nephews; and countless chosen family members and friends. He was preceded in death by his father Walter Hunsperger and mother C. Marion Hunsperger.
"Ernie was one of the kindest and sweetest guys I have ever met," said longtime friend John Zmuda. "Every time I saw him, he always had a thoughtful gesture to give or a fun story to tell me. I strive to be the strong and supportive partner to my husband, in the way he was to his partner Rick. I will forever cherish the orchids he gifted me and the memories we made together."
"Ernie was a strong supportive force behind his partner Rick," said longtime friend Jhonmar Castillo. "He was always there for the losses along the road to equal rights, and of course the historic victories. Ernie kept Rick going. He encouraged him to never give up and to keep fighting for the greater good of the community. I strive to live my life in such a way [as] to always encourage my partner as well as myself, to always better both one another, and the greater good of society."
"Ernie was wonderful," said longtime friend and former state Sen. Carol Ronen. "He had a sharp mind, a quick wit and great sense of the ironic. Ernie was a quiet man that could say a whole lot with just a smile or a look … and you knew exactly what he was saying. He was fiercely loyal, a true friend and above all else a loving partner to Rick, who could never do wrong in his eyes."
"I remember telling Ernie one day that he was a true 'fooler,'" said longtime friend Rocco Claps. "Ernie could be quite prickly in political discussions, in restaurant choices, in comments about the style of a jacket and about the people he was mad at. He could boom at you on the phone about a wide array of topics, often within the same conversation.
"But then, in a quieter moment, he would intuitively know what you were thinking, what you were sad about, what you were feeling. If you stuck around long enough, this strongly opinionated man with pointed words and perfect phrasing would turn into one of the sweetest, kindest people you ever metwith a thunderous laugh and a gigantic heart.
"He was deeply committed to his partner, Rick. And [he] knew that in all of Rick's work, he was there to support him, protect him and tell him the truth. Ernie was a profoundly 'alive' person, and his love, honesty and loyalty were his greatest attributes. I enjoyed every moment I ever spent with Ernie. I loved him. And I will miss him."
"Ernie was a very private person with incredible hidden depths," said longtime friend Ellen Meyers. "He knew everyone in the most elite New York cultural circles in the 1960s, '70s [and] '80s, and he was propositioned by composers and dancers and turned them down, or not. Ernie summered with friends in Venice or Fire Island, and wintered in Miami Beach. He loved that he was able to do this on virtually no money, because his eye was so good. Ernie loved that a lot of people did not have a clue who he was. He was a very cultured persona musician, a ballet dancer, an appreciator of art and male beauty. Ernie had an unerring eye for design and fashion.
"My wife and I have never considered relocating a single knick-knack he placed on our tables or shelves, and now for sure we will not. They have to be in a specific triangular layout we cannot ever duplicate. Ernie cherished and collected the best things, and liked them all the more because others might have overlooked them. He was the same way with people. Ernie was reserved, but his wit was basic and bawdy. He loved dogs, especially Schnauzers. I miss him so much."
Services were private due to the COVID-19 pandemic and memorials in Hunsperger's name can be sent to evanstonanimalshelter.net .