Honoring Ernie Hodas
Ernest “Ernie” Hodas
April 14, 1920 – July 17, 2013
Please join us in remembering Ernie Hodas—educator, philanthropist, lifelong friend, and one of the Green Industry’s earliest pioneers whose diligence, foresight and determination helped shape and advance the future of the landscape and irrigation industry in America.
Born in Macon, Ga. on April 14, 1920, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Hodas is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughter, Bunny; son, Robert (Bob); daughter-in-law, Pien; and granddaughters Rachel and Lauren. He was preceded in death by his son, Kenneth (Wing).
Always bright and a hard worker, Ernie graduated high school at 16, and with just one year of college completed, moved to California during his late teens. He served as a pilot in World War II, first flying bomber aircraft and ultimately piloting a C-46 in the Pacific and around the Philippines. His most memorable escapade of a “Successful Crash Landing” became an award winning business article in later years. His habit of forming lifelong friendships began here, as his squadron continued to meet regularly over the last 56 years.
Diving Into Distribution
After the war, Ernie settled in San Francisco, Calif., where he began working in the appliance parts distribution business. He met his future wife, Shirley Adler, who was traveling, representing her family of the Michigan-based Servall Company (now 1st Source Servall), in the same industry. Ernie and Shirley were married just months later in Huntington Woods, Mich., on November 25, 1947. After the birth of his two sons, Ken and Bob, in Calif., they relocated to Michigan to join the family business.
A few years later, Ernie established the Automatic Service Supply Co. (ASSCO), a manufacturing and wholesale distribution appliance parts business, based on the concept that some appliance parts could be “generic”, such as ice cube trays and dryer vents. Always with a yen for new innovation, he had one of the first “room-sized” computers—punch cards and all. He developed ASSCO into an international business and sold it during the 60’s. He was also active with the Appliance Parts Distributors Association (APDA).
A Newfound Faith
In 1956, Ernie and Shirley moved to Lathrup Village, Mich., beginning the friendships, fun times, and Red Wing mania that would last a lifetime because of Ernie’s warmth and good sense of humor. That same year, their daughter, Bunny, was born, and he and Shirley joined the Birmingham Unitarian Church. He jumped in full force as he helped in the process of creating the building they still occupy in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and over the years held many positions including congregation president.
He also served on the national Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) President’s Council, advising three national Unitarian Universalist (UU) presidents from 1993 to 2008. Ernie was deeply committed to the UU principles, some of which are: The inherent worth and dignity of every person; Justice, equity and compassion in human relations; The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; and Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part. He committed time and money supporting those ideals, and through that, taught his children to have open minds and hearts in all aspects of their lives, and to practice kindness and charity. His belief that learning is a lifelong activity continued throughout his days.
Establishing Roots in Irrigation
In 1968, Ernie was approached by a contractor interested in selling his part-ownership in the Century Sprinkler Supply Corporation located in Berkley, Mich. Ernie took advantage of the opportunity to switch industries, and officially entered into the irrigation distribution business.
In 1970, Ernie purchased Rain Aid, a turf and agriculture parts distributorship based in Southfield, Mich., and changed its name to Century Rain Aid (CRA). He pursued with passion an interest in becoming the best distributor possible, focusing on cultivating close customer relationships, a reputation for outstanding service, and education.
Ernie would develop his business through hard work, mindful acquisitions, the adoption of modern business technologies, and by expanding his product offering beyond irrigation to combat traditionally lower revenues during the non-irrigating winter months.
Early on, Ernie recognized a need for education and training, and its importance to the future growth of the industry. He began offering education classes to help Michigan’s windfall of automotive industry contractors who were migrating to the irrigation business, but needed training. He also began hosting an annual Century Rain Aid Tradeshow in Michigan.
Helping customers build their business through education and networking became one of Ernie’s most proud achievements. His tough exterior held a soft interior for his employees and customers and engendered great loyalty amongst them.
Ernie was actively involved in the Irrigation Association (IA), serving as IA President in 1983. He was the first recipient of Hunter Industries’ Trailblazer achievement award, and was simultaneously selected as Hunter’s Distributor of the Year. CRA eventually became known for being the largest Rain Bird distributor east of the Mississippi.
He also established a patent (#3984023) for an “underground valve box” in 1976 that featured collapsible/removable walls for efficient shipping.
Ernie grew the business to 23 locations in 8 states, before selling to Richton International, a stock exchange company, and ultimately John Deere Landscapes.
Serving the Industry and Community
Ernie served on the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors’ (NAW) Board of Directors from 1985-1992, and as its Chairman in 1989. He loved serving, sharing his knowledge, and educating himself and others through this organization. The experiences and friendships made provided much laughter and fond memories through the years as he and Shirley traveled around the world with them.
A true “workaholic”, Ernie stayed active in business and in the industry throughout his “retirement”, maintaining many lifelong friendships and associations. He was a great role model for all who knew him. Of course, Ernie’s loving attitude toward life took huge leaps when his granddaughters arrived on the scene. After commuting for years, he and Shirley moved to Arizona full time in 2009.
Ernie also continued to read, learn, travel, and stay in tune with the global state of affairs right up to the time of his passing, and continued his philanthropy work, supporting organizations such as Michigan State University, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), the Southern Poverty Law Center, Earth Justice, Union of Concerned Scientists, and many other local and national charities.
Ernie passed away quietly at home, at 93 years of age, on July 17, 2013. A memorial service will be held in his honor at 2 p.m. on October 6, 2013, at the Birmingham Unitarian Church in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. His family hopes that many will come share their best “Ernie” stories.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to any of the above organizations.
Hodas family contact information: Shirley Hodas, 11729 N 80th Place, Scottsdale, AZ 85260 or firstname.lastname@example.org.