Ernie Tolson is the shuttle driver for the Gobble Gobble from Tamiami Ford.
There’s a fellow that has been helping with this event who has a pretty inspiring story.
Ernie drives the shuttle donated from our partners at Tamiami Ford. That helps make parking a snap from Northern Trust to the start line for those who choose our park and ride option. We virtually never have a wait and shuttles run continuously.
When Ernie was 16 growing up in the ghettos of Washington, DC his father passed away from a battle with kidney failure while on dialysis. His mother shortly thereafter was raped and very badly beaten. She was unable to care for Ernie and as he put it, so severely disfigured from the beating she was “unrecognizable.”
He hit the streets in search of work and off on his own living in a car. “I would do janitorial work, handyman odd jobs, moving cars or anything that I could to get by. At one point I happened upon a car dealership and spoke to someone I assumed was a manager of some sort. It was actually the owner of the dealership.” Mr Crans found Ernie to be very honest, sincere and badly in need of the job and hired him on the spot. Ernie says, “I was destined for jail or dead. I take no credit. Anyone who has any faith..[and hears my story will understand this was god’s work.]”
Mr. Crans unfortunately was diagnosed with Parkinson’s after a time, and though he was a very wealthy man, he didn’t want his wife to have to be a caretaker and burdened with the responsibility of what he felt were embarrassing home health care issues nor did he want to have to hire a home health care professional that he didn’t know or trust. He entrusted Ernie as his driver and caretaker for 20 years before passing away and had basically adopted him as a family member. He would also have Ernie transport his boat to his Port Royal home in Naples and drive him from Washington DC as needed. Mr Crans told him how much his service had meant to him before he passed and left him a condo is his estate here in Naples. That was an incredible blessing as was their long relationship to each other’s mutual benefit.
Now Ernie found himself once again unemployed and looking for work. Where would he go? He had only one job on his resume and his reference was now deceased. When he went to Tamiami Ford there was a very familiar story that was about to take place. He interviewed for the job with someone he assumed was a manager of sorts. Mind you, this was around 2007 or 2008 during the economic downturn so there were more than a few applicants. It turned out to be Tim Zellars the owner and Ernie’s story struck the same human chord with him that it had with Mr Crans. He was intrigued. Ernie has been employed at Tamiami Ford as a driver for their shuttle ever since and is very grateful for the opportunity afforded him by the Zellars family and their kindness to him over the years. Their dealership embodies family and faith.
Ernie’s mother is now a Deacon and pastor and an inspiration to others from what she has endured.
After the devastating occurrences of when he was 16 Ernie was convinced “there ain’t no god.” It was a year and a half later he met Mr Crans who truly was a who’s who of DC, and his spouse was a descendant of Abraham Lincoln by the way, and that changed his life forever. Ernie’s faith is unwavering. When you meet him and talk to him if you are lucky enough getting a shuttle ride from him, you will meet a man full of happiness and love that is hard to match.
Recently some old friends of Mr. Crans contacted Ernie from Washington asking if he could help. Mrs Sweets asked if he could move to Naples to help take care of her. He told her he was in Naples and he offered to help her. She had to have an amputation and was in a nursing home. He assisted her for 2 years before she passed recently. He often talks to people that he drives and occasionally there have been folks that invite him to their homes for meals that he can tell some are a bit lonely and could use some company. He always accepts their invitations. He recently has been volunteering over at St Matthew’s House quite a bit. He has accepted his calling in life to help others and has led a rich life indeed.
The spirit of the Gobble Gobble is tied to everyone connected to the event. Please realize what a special event takes place on Thanksgiving here. We are so grateful to each and every sponsor, volunteer, participant and family connected to this event and especially the charities. This year stay tuned for a special opportunity we will introduce with our partners at Tamiami Ford closer to the event.
The Zellars family who own Tamiami Ford are pretty special people and I don’t mind telling you that my family drives two excellent vehicles that I have purchased from them. A number of close friends have also been very happy with their cars and how they were treated there. Don’t hesitate to support this local family business if you are looking for a great car or truck.