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In Memoriam: Marian Ernst

AG Bell remembers Marian Ernst, a pioneer in developing LSL services and resources.

By Cara Ernst

On January 28, 2024, Marian (Marienau) Ernst, one of the early pioneers of the Auditory-Verbal Movement, died at the age of 95 in Denver, Co. Along with others, Marian helped establish the field of listening and spoken language communication for deaf and hard of hearing children based on the use of residual hearing and the application of technology, such as hearing aids and, later, cochlear implants. She also focused on improving training and establishing certification standards for professionals who work with children with hearing loss. One of her most important contributions was her role in transitioning children with hearing loss into mainstream schools.

She dearly loved “her kids.”

Marian was born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1927 and grew up during the Depression with WWII as a backdrop for her high school years. She attended Wayne State Teacher’s College in Albion, Neb., teaching school for three years on a special certificate until she completed her teaching degree in 1949.

While she was in graduate school at the University of Nebraska studying educational psychology, a professor suggested Marian study audiology, which was an emerging field after WWII. Hearing aids were beginning to be used on children who were deaf and hard of hearing and Marian was interested in teaching the children and their families how to use them.

While still enrolled at the University and under the guidance of four otologists, she established the Omaha Hearing School in 1952 for preschool-aged children who are deaf and hard of hearing and their parents to provide early education and training during the most formative years of a child’s life. The school operated for almost 60 years, closing in 2011 due to lack of enrollment—technology had changed the need for this kind of school.

Marian was certified as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP/A) in 1952 and obtained ASHA certification of clinical competence in speech-language pathology and audiology (CCC-SLP/A) in 1954. She was a pioneer in the Acoupedic Program (later called Auditory-Verbal Therapy), working with Doreen Pollack at the University of Denver and, later, at Porter Memorial Hospital teaching listening and spoken language skills to children who were deaf and hard of hearing.

An interesting side note: Marian first met Doreen, who was then a relatively new bride from England and clinical supervisor at the University of Denver, in 1956. Their husbands both worked together at Stearns-Rogers and were in the same carpool. Doreen needed someone with a background in speech for children so she asked Marian to come work with her. Marian worked for the University of Denver speech program as a “speech correctionist” with school-aged children. This program, based on Doreen’s acoupedic philosophy, would be known as the “Acoupedic Program”.

In the 1970s, Marian became one of the organizers of AG Bell’s certification program for auditory-verbal therapists. She chaired the Auditory-Verbal International (AVI) certification council that helped establish a certification program for professionals engaged in listening and spoken language services for children who are deaf and hard of hearing. Today, this is known as the Listening and Spoken Language Specialist (LSLS) certification program offered by the AG Bell Academy for Listening and Spoken Language (formerly AVI). She earned her certification as an LSLS Cert. AVT in 1994.

In 1979, Marian established educational audiology programs in Denver where she was in private practice as a speech-language hearing clinician and auditory-verbal therapist, as well as the director and researcher in auditory-verbal learning and education throughout the rest of her career.

Marian enjoyed travel and visited Japan, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, eastern and western Europe, Argentina, and all 50 states, often when possible exchanging information and knowledge with other professionals in those locations who worked in her field. In 1993, she went as a member of an Education of the Hearing-Impaired Delegation to Moscow, Stavrapol, and St. Petersburg, Russia through the Citizen Ambassador Program.

She is predeceased by her husband of 60 years, Jack Ernst (1928-2015) and two siblings, Fred (1929-2008) and Eula (1933-2018). She is survived by three children, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life will take place on Friday, June 7, 2024, at 2 p.m. (what would have been her 96th birthday) at the First Universalist Church, 4101 E. Hampden Ave in Denver, Co. Everyone who would like to attend is welcome.

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