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Decades after WWII vet dies, West Side children’s hospital receives $90,000 from him

When Ernest Ulrich died in 1999, he left behind an estate of $1.5 million. His will asked for the money to be donated to nonprofits, including Shriners Hospitals for Children. His final wishes were executed at the hospital Wednesday.

Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs announces $90,000 donation to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Chicago with funds from the donation from the estate of Chicago WWII Army veteran Ernest Ulrich.
Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs announces $90,000 donation to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Chicago with money from the donation from the estate of Chicago WWII Army veteran Ernest Ulrich.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Ellie Talerico was 6 months old when she was diagnosed with arthrogryposis, a rare condition affecting the joints in her arms.

“We didn’t know until she was born that there was something going on,” said her mom, Alice Talerico. Ellie’s pediatrician had seen only three others with the condition, so he referred them to Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Now 6, Ellie’s condition is minor. With at-home occupational and physical therapies she’s able to live as any other 6-year-old.

Talerico said she is appreciative of the insight the doctors at Shriners have given on Ellie’s rare condition.

Others have appreciated the hospital’s work, too, including a World War II veteran named Ernest Ulrich who passed away 22 years ago.

It’s thanks to Ulrich that the hospital at 2211 N. Oak Park Ave. received a $90,000 donation Wednesday.

Speaking at Shriners Hospital Wednesday, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs said it was a “great joy” to give the donation.

“I like returning money to anyone in the state of Illinois, but especially organizations like Shriners Hospital,” he said. “I know that it is going to do good for a lot of other people.”

Army 1st Sgt. Ulrich fought in World War II at Normandy and the Ardennes, earning both a Silver Battle Star and the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in France in 1944.

Ernie Ulrich, shown here in his Army uniform in 1945, fought in World War II. His long lost $1.5 million estate will soon be distributed to charity.
Ernie Ulrich, shown here in his Army uniform in 1945, fought in World War II. His estate was disbursed to nonprofits around the city, including Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Provided

When Ulrich died in 1999 at 85 years old, he left behind a $1.5 million estate. He never married or had children, so his will listed several nonprofits to disburse the money to.

But for unknown reasons, Ulrich’s will was never executed, and his estate was eventually turned over to the Illinois Treasurer’s Unclaimed Property Program.

“This guy was a veteran in World War II, then he was a stationary engineer,” Frerichs said. “Blue-collar job, a decent job, but the guy obviously was frugal and saved and saved.”

By the time the state tracked down Ulrich’s estate down, it had grown to $2.1 million.

Now, two decades after his death, Ulrich’s donation will cover the cost of implanting magnetic rods for two patients with scoliosis, one of the illnesses the hospital specializes in treating, explained Daniel Winter, director of development for Shriner Hospitals.

“We can use a magnet to stretch [the rod] so that we don’t have to do as many follow-on surgeries,” said Winter. “These are very consequential wounds for these cases, and it takes a long time to recover. So the fewer surgeries we can do, the better for their health.”

Those rods can cost up to $45,000, though, and Shriners treats patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Frerichs said Ulrich was a “hero to our country in World War II and continues to be a hero today.”

The Salvation Army, Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind, and Goodwill Industries of Metro Chicago were also listed in Ulrich’s will.

Ernest Ulrich, shown here in his Army uniform in 1945.
Ernest Ulrich, shown here in his Army uniform in 1945.
Provided

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a Chicago Sun-Times staff reporter via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and the West Side