A strong advocate for progress in Rock Hill’s Blackmon Road community died Tuesday afternoon because of complications from a blood clot.
Ernestine “Ernie” Kirk was a Blackmon Road resident and president of the board of directors for A Place For Hope – a nonprofit center serving at-risk children in Rock Hill through summer camps and after-school programs.
Kirk was a “steel magnolia” who displayed grace, great patience and passion, said Donna Berry, friend and founder of A Place For Hope.
The 63-year-old Kirk and her husband, Cleveland, were two of the first Blackmon Road residents who were asked to join the organization’s board several years ago.
The Kirk family could not be reached Thursday.
Ernestine Kirk – who would have turned 64 next month – died unexpectedly at Piedmont Medical Center, where she previously had been admitted for treatment of a boil, members of the family told friends.
On Tuesday night, A Place For Hope’s board was set to meet but news of Kirk’s death led board members to cancel the meeting and offer prayers instead.
Kirk “was definitely the strongest resident leader the Blackmon Road community has ever seen,” Berry said Thursday.
Berry and her husband, Tom Aggeles, began their work in the community about 13 years ago.
A Place For Hope was founded as a way to meet emergency needs of many residents who did not have adequate food, clothing or transportation to work.
For years, the community and the nonprofit group tried to bring sewer and water lines to the impoverished community that lies just outside Rock Hill city limits.
The project was ultimately deemed too expensive.
In 2010, a foundation donated money to A Place For Hope to build a wash house for Blackmon Road residents.
Several months ago, the wash house closed as the organization faced financial difficulty.
Walking in ‘a state of grace’
Through periods of hardship and financial uncertainty, Kirk was always the first to share optimism and remind the board of its mission, Aggeles said.
Late last month, Kirk and others celebrated the re-opening of the community’s wash house as a local church, Agape International Ministries, announced it will oversee the facility and help pay its utility bills.
Alongside York County Councilman Bump Roddey and Agape Pastor Maurice Revell, Kirk cut a ribbon in front of the wash house with a big smile on her face.
Since its founding, A Place For Hope has changed its mission from offering emergency assistance to focusing solely on children in the Rock Hill community.
Kirk was always a steadfast supporter, Berry said.
She believed nothing was out of reach for children living on Blackmon Road – a community once called one of the most underserved areas in the state by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Cleveland J. Kirk II, the son of Ernestine and Cleveland Kirk, was raised on Blackmon Road and is a doctor in Charlotte.
While some people in York County may have stereotypes about the Blackmon Road community, Berry said the Kirks believed in the potential for success in every child.
Kirk “knew what was possible ... she always put the children first,” Berry said.
“She was committed to the success of A Place For Hope and Blackmon Road entirely.”
To fellow board members, Kirk brought a “calming spirit” to A Place For Hope, Aggeles said.
“She walked around in a state of grace,” he said.
At meetings, she listened intently and always asked what would be best for children in Rock Hill, Berry and Aggeles said.
“She was patient,” Donna Berry said. “She listened, but she always spoke her mind.”
In a May interview with The Herald, Kirk said she and her husband would never move out of the Blackmon Road community after living there for 37 years.
“I love the people here ... this is my neighborhood and these are my neighbors,” she said then.
Blackmon Road, “unclaimed” by county and city officials for so long, benefits greatly from A Place For Hope’s services, Kirk said.
It was heartbreaking, she said, when residents learned that sewer and water lines would be too expensive to install along the street.
Kirk, who worked as a seamstress in Rock Hill and earned a degree from York Technical College, lived next door to her aunt and uncle on Blackmon Road.
As a child, she visited her relatives and remembers when Blackmon Road was more populated and had a community store, she said.
Years ago, the community was plagued by drugs and people with drinking problems, Kirk said.
With heightened police presence, road improvements and A Place For Hope’s help, Blackmon Road improved, she said, and is a safe, peaceful place to live.
Kirk acknowledged a stigma that some people in York County attach to Blackmon Road.
Her response was, “You just have to prove them wrong.”
“You have to fight against it,” Kirk said. “You have to support your children. I’ll support any child that wants to do better.”
Robinson Funeral Home will hold a viewing from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, and from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Mount Hopewell Baptist Church.
Kirk’s funeral will be 2 p.m. Saturday at the church.
Burial services will follow at the church cemetery.
She is survived by her husband, her son, her father and stepmother in Charlotte, four sisters and two nephews, whom she raised.
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068