Scholarships to carry forward legacy of Novi graduate and girlfriend who drowned

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published October 5, 2022

 Kory Ernster and Emily MacDonald attended Michigan State University and had season tickets for the football games.

Kory Ernster and Emily MacDonald attended Michigan State University and had season tickets for the football games.

Photo provided by Stephen Ernster

NOVI — A scholarship has been created in the wake of the tragic deaths of a 2018 Novi High School graduate and his girlfriend in early August.

Kory Ernster, 22, of Novi, drowned in Lake Michigan, near South Haven, Aug. 8 along with Emily MacDonald, 19, Ernster’s longtime girlfriend. The couple had been enjoying the last day of a family vacation before returning to school and work. Ernster was working for an engineering firm in Wisconsin, having just graduated from Michigan State University, and MacDonald, from Columbus, Michigan, was to return to MSU to continue her study of veterinary medicine.   

Ernster’s father, Stephen, who teaches sixth grade robotics at Novi Meadows Elementary School, described his son as a “really easygoing, fun-loving kid.” He said his son tried to make sure everybody was comfortable and always tried to make people laugh. Everybody who met Kory, even for a short time, had nothing but nice things to say about him, Stephen said.

“He just really worked hard to try to make connections with people and really tried to make people at ease,” said Stephen. “Emily had been with him for five years, and she just really had positive things to say about him. He had really helped her to get through some really difficult times. That’s the kind of kid he was. He just really liked to make people feel good about themselves and make people feel positive and try to kind of keep the mood light so that people weren’t getting too stressed or anxious.”

Lisa Fenchel, the principal of Novi Meadows, whose daughter graduated with Kory, described him as “just a great, great kid.” She said the news of his death was “unbelievable” and it felt like she had gotten the call that no parent wants to get.

“It was like, ‘This cannot be real. What do you mean this kid who just got a job and graduated college is gone?’” Fenchel said.

After receiving a tremendous amount of financial support from the community following his son’s unexpected death, Stephen and his wife, Stephanie, decided to utilize the funds that had been donated to the family to create two annual memorial scholarships for Novi High School seniors.

Fenchel said that someone had started a meal train for the Ernster family after Kory’s death and that there had been an option to donate money directly to the family through it. She said that the family didn’t feel that they needed it themselves, so they put it toward this scholarship.

“I think it’s fabulous,” Fenchel said of the scholarship idea. “Kory was a very giving, generous person, and I didn’t know his girlfriend, but my understanding is that she was the same way, and I think that (the Ernster family) just felt such an outpouring of support and love from the community that they wanted to be able to turn that around in some way.”

The scholarships will each be for $1,000 and will go to two students who wish to continue their studies at MSU. One scholarship will be for a student who wishes to pursue engineering like Kory, and the other for a student who, like Emily, desires a degree in veterinary medicine.

In order to qualify for the scholarships, students will be asked to write essays. The Ernster family will select the recipients they feel best resemble the characteristics of Kory and Emily. The first two scholarships will be distributed in the spring of 2023.

“We wanted to kind of connect the Novi High School experience, but also the Michigan State experience, because that was pretty important for him and for her as well,” said Stephen. “They had their last year up there together. She was a freshman. He was a senior. Their only year up there together. So, we wanted to connect the Novi education experience with the Michigan State education experience.”

Stephen said he hopes the scholarship will provide an opportunity to connect the two worlds that were the most influential for his son, and that the memory of Kory and Emily will live on through the people who knew them best.

“He had a great high school and college experience, and now we want to help other people,” Ernster said.

“It is just a way to help remember them, and it will be done annually, so we’ll kind of use it as a way to tell his story a bit as we give the scholarships and their story and spread forward some of the really positive elements of the community and all of the really good graciousness that the community has shown to us in mourning his loss.”

Fenchel said that she thinks the scholarship is something Kory would have wanted.

“He was such a kind person and so focused on helping others that I think this would be absolutely perfect. I know he was very involved in his church, and even at his funeral (people) just spoke so highly of him and how generous he was. So, I think this would be exactly something that (Kory) would support.”

For more information on the scholarship or to make a donation, contact Stephen Ernster at