Ernie Ulrich will soon donate more than $1.5 million to Chicago-area charities, no small feat for a man of modest means who has been dead nearly 17 years.

How Ulrich is going to accomplish that is quite the tangled tale, but let’s start by noting there was never a newspaper obituary to properly mark his passing.

It’s time to remedy that.

Ernest F. Ulrich died in Chicago at age 85 on Dec. 21, 1999.

He was a U.S. Army veteran who served in World War II and received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in France in November 1944. Ulrich was in the thick of it, fighting in Normandy and the Ardennes, earning a Silver Battle Star.

OPINION

His ashes are interred at Arlington National Cemetery, where a simple marker lists his rank as first sergeant.

Ernest Ulrich grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery

Ernest Ulrich’s grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery

After the war, Ulrich was employed as a stationary engineer, a blue-collar job maintaining boilers and such, at some point going to work for the Museum of Science and Industry.

Ulrich liked to take out-of-town visitors to the museum and would tell them he helped put together the old giant walk-through beating heart exhibit. They say he was very proud of that, along with all things Chicago.

Often those visitors were his old Army buddies or their adult children, with whom Ulrich also maintained lifelong friendships, like the Rossmans in Seattle who describe Ulrich as outgoing and gregarious.

Ulrich was never married and had no children. His two sisters, Margaret and Lillian, were his only family.

In their later years, the three siblings each had separate apartments at the Bethany Retirement Home, 4950 N. Ashland. They wanted to be together, but not “TOGETHER,” as it was explained to me. The sisters often accompanied Ulrich on his cross country travels.

Margaret, who also never married, died three months before Ernie. Lillian, a widow, died one month after him. Like Ernie, neither sister had children of their own.

Ernest Ulrich, shown here with his sisters, Lillian Claus, left, and Margaret Ulrich, died in 1999. It only recently was discovered that Ulrich's $1.5 million estate had never been distributed to charity as he requested. | Supplied Photo

Ernest Ulrich, shown here with his sisters, Lillian Claus, left, and Margaret Ulrich, died in 1999. It only recently was discovered that Ulrich’s $1.5 million estate had never been distributed to charity as he requested. | Supplied Photo

Ulrich left a will, prepared in 1992, but after his death, nobody carried it out. It appears the lawyer who was supposed to serve as his executor dropped the ball. The lawyer died in 2007, so nobody can say for sure.

In his will, Ulrich left his estate to Margaret. Lillian was specifically excluded, “due to the fact that she is well provided for and not out of any lack of affection,” the will stated.

If Margaret were to die before him, as came to pass, the will called for Ulrich’s estate to go to charity.

Specifically, he bequeathed one-third to the Salvation Army with the remainder to be split between Shriner’s Hospital for Children, Chicago Christian Industrial League (now A Safe Haven), Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly, Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Goodwill Industries.

But that never happened.

Instead, his investment accounts languished and gradually were declared inactive, his assets passing to the Illinois State Treasurer as unclaimed property. All told, there were 155 unclaimed properties for Ulrich, including 5,344 shares of ExxonMobile stock and 6,460 shares of AT&T.

It wasn’t until new state Treasurer Michael Frerichs made a priority of resolving high-dollar unclaimed accounts that Ulrich’s affairs were properly laid to rest.

Using bare bones information from Ulrich’s financial records, the treasurer’s office went in search of his rightful heirs—pulling his death certificate, searching for associates, tracking down his will.

Earlier this year, the state turned over a check for $1,575,822 to Susan Harkless, the lawyer now handling Ulrich’s probate, not bad considering most of the money had been essentially frozen for a decade.

Harkless says the funds will be distributed to the charities as soon as she completes filing tax returns for the estate.

“A beautiful thing,” Salvation Army lawyer Bramwell Higgins said of the anticipated $500,000 donation. “We are going to put it to great use in the city of Chicago.”

I’m sure it will come in handy for the other charities as well.

“Ernie would be thrilled to death to know that,” said Lou-ann Presgrave of Crooksville, Ohio, whose husband’s uncle was one of Ulrich’s Army pals.

Definitely a case of better late than never.

Ernest Ulrich, shown here in his Army uniform in 1945 | Provided photo

Ernest Ulrich, shown here in his Army uniform in 1945 | Provided photo