AURORA | Ernie Clark — the affable ex-cop behind Aurora’s nonprofit Second Chance Bicycle Shop — died Wednesday evening following a “medical episode,” according to his family. He was 66.
Ernie was born and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He fell in love with his wife, Faith, and the mountains of Colorado nearly 50 years ago, and eventually left his job as a New Jersey police officer to move to the Centennial State.
He leaves behind a decades-long legacy of helping thousands of people by providing bicycles to young children, homeless people and others in need.
Ernie accomplished all of this despite having to pick up and move his shop several times. Most recently, the redevelopment of the East Bank Shopping Center in southwest Aurora forced the shop to close its doors in October.
Betty Clark said her father lived for the thank-you cards he received from elementary school children grateful for the free bikes they received through his shop. Whenever her dad met one of her friends, Betty said, he would ask if they had a child, so he could ask if their child owned a bike.
Even after undergoing surgery to remove a mass on his kidneys in July, Ernie was eager to keep up with the requests of schools and Aurorans desperate for a set of wheels.
“He might as well have had the middle name ‘bicycle,’ because he truly lived it,” Betty said. “This man spent his days when he wasn’t at the shop answering his phone and talking to people every day. He couldn’t not answer it at dinner. He wouldn’t let it go to voicemail.”
She said she believed the stress of having to find a new space and relocate the shop’s massive inventory of bikes contributed to her father’s death.
Ernie was also a rock for his family, supporting Faith in her battle against cancer, despite his own medical problems, which included neuropathy that made it difficult to stand on his feet.
Betty has followed in her dad’s footsteps as a police officer, working in the Lakewood Police Department’s Crimes Against Children Unit. She said her father’s death made her reflect on the fact that both she and her father had committed their lives to caring for children.
In addition to his wife, Ernie is survived by their children Betty and Ernest Jr., and grandchildren Samuel and Marcus.
“He made us who we are. And he would do anything for my mom,” Betty said. “He never wanted to toot his own horn and share his pain. He just wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of.”
As news of Ernie’s death became public, city officials released statements recognizing his stature in Aurora.
“Ernie Clark gave everything to improve the lives of children, veterans and many others in our community,” wrote Councilmember Alison Coombs, whose ward includes the East Bank Shopping Center and who was involved in efforts to relocate Second Chance prior to Ernie’s death.
“He took great pride in giving so many the joy and freedom of having a bike,” she said. “He has inspired many to carry out this legacy. He will be greatly missed.”
Mayor Mike Coffman also wrote in a social media post that Ernie would “be greatly missed in Aurora” and that he had “demonstrated the value of giving back, and his passion provided purpose for those who volunteered alongside him.”
Angela Lawson, Crystal Murillo and other City Council members also acknowledged Ernie’s death at the end of the group’s Nov. 14 meeting.
Betty said the family is planning on holding a public memorial service for Ernie, and that they would release information once the details of the event are finalized.
While Ernie’s death and the East Bank redevelopment may have cast uncertainty over the future of Second Chance, Betty said she is committed to making sure her father’s legacy lives on.
“I told him, come hell or high water, we’re going to keep it going,” she said.
Condolences to the family. A kind man passing way too young. So sorry to hear this.
This is sad to hear. I hope they find a new site for the shop to continue and donations to help with the work.
RIP Erney. 🙏 for your family.
It’s been so nice to be able to donate bicycles to Second Chance over the years, knowing that all or parts of them could live on and help others. I wish the city had done more in terms of grants for this operation, and wish they will do more to help with his daughter’s pledge to continue the mission. The City of Aurora can and should find a way to provide continuing support, even in terms of allocating presently underused facilities on Ellsworth Street.