Ernest P. Mendenhall died at home in West Tisbury on Sept. 14 with loving family members by his side. He was 73. Ernie’s initial cancer diagnosis came two weeks before his retirement in the spring of 2013. While many would have felt robbed by this, he chose instead to spend as much time as possible with those he loved, and to remind them that he had few regrets, having led a very full and varied life. He impressed all by keeping his sense of humor to the very end and handling his diagnosis and declining health with incredible grace. While cancer may have taken him from his family, it never robbed him of his quick wit, his extraordinary love and compassion for those around him, or his desire to fix and build things.

Ernie was born in Boston in 1942 to Ernest P. Mendenhall Sr. and Marion Isabel (Fish) Mendenhall, and spent much of his first three years with his mother and paternal grandparents in Pembroke while his father was off at war in the Pacific. His grandfather was a teacher, machinist and inventor and his grandmother taught piano, so the ground was laid early for his love of tools, making things, and music. After the war, the family lived for a while at a country club in Ludlow where his father was the chef. Sadly, this did not lead to either a love of cooking or adventurous eating, but did stimulate his love of music ­— particularly the big band music of that era ­— which was reinforced by having a bedroom that backed up to the club’s ballroom. Later, the family moved to Roslindale, outside Boston, where his father went to engineering school after losing an entire leg to cancer at a very young age. Watching his father cope with the pain and disability of a missing limb with humor and a determination not to let it stop him clearly left Ernie with many lasting life lessons, as did the very premature death of his father at 41. Similarly, watching his mother trying to cope as a single working mother gave him a respect for independent women.

From the stories Ernie told, the teenage years were more about cars, dancing with girls, and work after school than about school itself. He had far too creative and intuitive a mind to fit well into the mold of 1950s education. A job at a gas and service station sparked a lifelong love of cars. He married Margaret (Peggie) Carroll in 1964 and they soon moved to Vermont where he was the U-Haul rep for all of Vermont and most of New Hampshire. By the time he was 27, Ernie was the father of Trish, Cheryl, and Brad, and struggling to make ends meet in a rural community. He worked lots of side jobs, as well as his main job by then of delivering and setting up mobile homes. In the early 1970s the owner of one of the Vermont properties where he did odd jobs told Ernie repeatedly that he needed someone like Ernie to manage the 13-story building for the school he had founded in Brooklyn, N.Y. Ernie was eventually persuaded to pack up his family and give it a try.

The move to New York led to enormous changes in his life. He worked as the plant manager of St. Ann’s School and a member of the core administrative group, surrounded by quirky, brilliant, iconoclastic colleagues who valued his own quirky brilliance. The early years called for crisis management at best, as he struggled to keep the somewhat run-down late 1800s building functional, as well as constantly adding and removing walls as the school’s needs evolved. Those who knew Ernie more recently as a building inspector here on Martha’s Vineyard would be amused to hear about the inspection tours he led for various New York officials, sometimes skipping entire floors without anyone noticing. After a few years in New York, Ernie and Peggie divorced. The years at St. Ann’s eventually helped Ernie to meet his soulmate and future spouse, Kathy Logue, when she worked at the same school in 1976-77. Evenings and weekends that did not fall in the sailing season were often spent at the home of one good friend or another, doing extensive building renovations and repairs, or car work from oil changes to curbside engine swaps, and enjoying wonderful meals and friendship.

By 1985, Ernie and Kathy were getting a bit itchy to leave New York and toyed with moving to coastal New England, where they had sailed every summer. Ernie loved being on and near the water, despite never successfully learning to swim. So when his in-laws, Ed and Margaret Logue, bought a piece of land east of the West Tisbury cemetery, and suggested that he and Kathy build them a retirement house, they both took leaves of absence from their New York jobs to do that. As happens to so many who come to Martha’s Vineyard, they just couldn’t leave. All three of his children from his first marriage also moved to the island, although Trish later moved back to Vermont. Ernie and Kathy’s daughter Megan was born here in 1994.

Ernie joined the West Tisbury Fire Department within weeks of his arrival, and this led to a whole series of volunteering stints for his community as a Tri-Town EMT, a library trustee, a member of several town building committees, and a board member for numerous Island affordable housing organizations. Ernie worked first as a building contractor, then moved to the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard where he did carpentry, plumbing, engine swaps, and boat moving. At the same time, Ernie was appointed West Tisbury’s building inspector, doing most of his inspecting on nights and weekends. As that work expanded, he left the shipyard and worked for a time as maintenance director first at Island Elderly Housing and then at Windemere. By 2000, the building inspector work was enough to fill a week all on its own. Over the years, Ernie developed a reputation for having an uncanny eye for finding problems on his inspections, but also for handling them and a host of difficult zoning issues fairly and with unfailing good humor.

Ernie was predeceased by his parents, his former wife Margaret Carroll Herrick and her second husband George, his father-in-law Ed Logue, and his infant nieces Michelle and Jennifer Mendenhall. He is survived by his beloved wife Kathy Logue, his daughter Trish Pelkey and her husband Herb, his daughter Cheryl Lowe and her husband Erik, his son Brad Mendenhall and his wife Lisa Strachan, and his daughter Megan Mendenhall. Also surviving are his brother Lee, his wife Mary Anne and their three daughters Melissa, Nicole, and Rebecca; his five grandchildren, Marie Betit, Emily and Aaron Lowe, and Caitlin and Nash Pelkey; his mother in law Margaret Logue, and his brother and sister in law Bill and Chris Logue and their children James, Kate and Meg Logue.

A memorial service will be held at the Agricultural Hall on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 3 p.m. There will be a potluck gathering immediately following the service; those attending are invited to bring a side dish or dessert to share, and to drive their oldest or favorite vehicle to the service. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard ( Interment will be private.