Ernest McKenney, 94, formerly of Northern Liberties, a retired defense contract negotiator, died Thursday, June 25, of complications from dementia at Brandywine Living at Haverford Estates, a senior community.
Known as “Ernie,” Mr. McKenney was the youngest of 10 children born in Johnston, S.C., to Rachel Daniel and Henry McKenney.
In the 1930s, Mr. McKenney and his mother headed north. They intended to live with his sister, Sadie, in New York, but stopped in Bryn Mawr to visit his brother, Booker T. McKenney, and before they knew it, they had put down roots.
“We never made it to New York, and boy, was I grateful for the life I was afforded, growing up in Bryn Mawr,” Mr. McKenney liked to tell friends.
Mr. McKenney joined Saints Memorial Baptist Church in Bryn Mawr. He attended Lower Merion High School, where he ran track and was active in the chorus and glee club. He was known as a skilled pianist with a beautiful voice.
Mr. McKenney wanted to attend college at Hampton Institute in Virginia, but his plans were derailed when he was drafted into the Army. (On arriving at the high school, he was put back two grades because the schools in the South were considered lacking, so he was old enough to be drafted while still a high school student.)
He saw combat in World War II and was honorably discharged with the rank of private first class in 1946.
After leaving the Army, he went to Radnor High School to complete his studies, graduating in 1947.
Mr. McKenney joined the Defense Contract Administration Services, a procurement arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. He was a contract negotiator working from offices in Philadelphia. To bolster his skills in the business world, he took night courses at Temple University.
In 1975, at 50, Mr. McKenney took advantage of an early retirement offer. He then taught English at Community College of Philadelphia.
Married and divorced in the 1960s, he spent most of his life as a bachelor. He traveled widely, and enjoyed music, caring for his plants, and furnishing his apartment with rugs and art he had bought on his trips abroad.
In the mid-1950s, Mr. McKenney moved into the Friends’ Housing Cooperative near Eighth Street and Fairmount Avenue in Northern Liberties. The block-long co-op was a housing experiment sponsored by two Quaker organizations, the Philadelphia Planning Commission and the Redevelopment Authority.
Insured by the Federal Housing Administration, it was the first cooperative, diverse community to be organized under the tenants-as-landlords principle, The Inquirer reported in 1978. Mr. McKenney loved living there and was just as enthusiastic about the place in 1978 as he had been when he moved in.
“There really is nothing like it around,” he said. “Because of the balance of tenants, between whites, Asians, and Blacks, life here contains a true cultural exchange.
“And it really is community living. Everybody knows everybody else. We have courtyard suppers, introductory parties for new tenants. And all of the owners have community tasks.” His were to clean the hallway on his floor and to make sure that light bulbs were replaced.
Mr. McKenney took great pride in the years he lived in Philadelphia. He loved to share the city’s rich history with anyone who would listen. He lived in West Mount Airy and then in an apartment in East Falls. As his health began to decline, he moved into Brandywine Living Estates of Haverford and stayed there until his death.
Mr. McKenney was predeceased by all nine siblings and a nephew.
He is survived by another nephew, three nieces, and a great-niece, Roslyn Stitt, to whom he was especially close.
Funeral services were Wednesday, July 1.