FILAMSPEAK: Memories of Ernie Pena as friend, mentor, artist

Hazel Sanchez Rapciewicz with Ernie, who took photos of her first-born just months before he died

For several days, the death of beloved photographer Ernie Pena was the community’s best kept secret. Word had gotten around how he was found in his room by Jersey City police officers after he failed to come to work one morning and his co-workers decided to call in the cops. No one breached the request until Ernie’s family in Pennsylvania had been informed of his condition, which says something about the community’s deep respect for the man.

An outpouring of grief and affection continue to stream on his Facebook wall from friends, acquaintances and clients who have been served by his artistry. The jolly photographer who made it his business to “make Filipinos look good in photos” will be fondly remembered for his humility and his creativity.

Hazel Sanchez Rapciewicz
CBS television reporter

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the passing of my dear friend Ernie Peña. I’m shocked and overwhelmingly saddened. Ernie had an undeniable talent as a photographer. I could only dream to see the world through his creative eyes. I will cherish the October day he spent with me and Pete, capturing the latest milestone in our life. The pictures were perfect. I expected nothing less. I will never forget his infectious smile, his selfless spirit, his Pinoy pride, and his love for his family, friends and life.

Rolan Gutierrez

I knew Ernie as a person willing to give tips to other photographers. He was not selfish with sharing. My last chat with him was at TOFA when I asked him what camera setting to use for the lightings in Carnegie Hall. He actually set my camera himself. I also requested Ernie to take my picture with the TOFA board members on stage using my camera. My wife Myrna and I actually nominated him for the TOFA award for ‘Arts & Culture.’ I will miss my guru and friend.

Grace Labaguis,
Marketing consultant

Vary talented young man. I’m not very close to Ernie but he’s been very accommodating in terms of taking photos of my events. He’s a soft spoken, respectful person. He always asked permission before taking photos and shares without asking anything in return. I couldn’t believe he’s gone.

Chris Poblete
A friend from Los Angeles

While still in denial about the loss of an irreplaceable character, I begin to reflect on the moments we’ve interacted. Ernie was one of the first Filipino Americans I met who pursued Aerospace Engineering. During times I wanted to change majors, he always encouraged me to continue to pursue what I felt was right. He taught me a valuable lesson in life: “Be pro-active with pursuing what you believe is right. If we don’t know what’s right then we need to re-prioritize to hear what God is calling us to do.” Ernie is one who not just preaches, but teaches by example. He is a true leader, who lived every moment in life teaching others what he believed in; awakening others from the animosity and complacency that comes with daily routine. (His passing) is a huge loss to the communities he served.

Marisse Panlilio
Ernie’s landlady, entrepreneur

He is one of a kind, a true friend, a giver not a taker. He was always there to lend a hand. I feel for his parents, he’s an only son and he loved his parents dearly. I feel for his sisters, brother-in-law and his 1-year-old nephew who will never see his uncle again except for pictures, memories and great stories about how good his Uncle Ernie was.

Ernie was a caring and loving son. His mom had major surgery of the spine last April. Before he left for Pennsylvania, he told me his mom was making ‘bilin’ as if she was not going to make it through. He showed me pictures of her X-rays, pictures of the curvature, etc. He said it was pretty pretty bad, and that he was willing to resign, look for a job closer to home to care for her if need be.

When I told him he was nominated for TOFA, he said, “No no. There are others more deserving than me.”

He loved California. His eyes would light up every time he would tell me stories of his years in California. A few months back, he told me if given the chance he wanted to move back to Cali. I’m crying right now

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