Ernest M. Cheek was born in Sewanee, Tennessee on January 12, 1939 and has been a lifelong supporter of The University of the South throughout his life where he was always known simply as “Ernie”.
After graduating from Castle Heights Military Academy in 1957 he attended and graduated from the mountain top College of Liberal Arts with a degree in economics.
He played football under the legendary Shirley Majors and was co-captain of the undefeated 1960 team with Mississippi native Jody Gee. The team was inducted into the Sewanee Sports Hall of Fame as a unit in 2009.
When all student meals were served family style by Gailor Hall students Ernie served as the head waiter which was a distinct honor in that era.
He would also serve as a fraternity officer . As part of his college experiences he rescued a light brown mongrel puppy whom he named Heraclitus, after the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher. This has been discussed in a prior article that traced the history of unleashed canines at Sewanee.
When Ernie graduated the animal stayed at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house until his death and engaged in all of its activities including the consumption of illegal alcoholic beverages that may have been left in a vulnerable location by the partying frat brothers and their dates while enjoying the music of a 1950-1960s rock n roll band (These events occurred prior to the enrollment of women and minorities on the Domain).
After graduating from Sewanee, Ernie married a girl from Sparta, Tennessee, Carolyn Andrews, and they would move back to her hometown in 1968. They would eventually have three children, five grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.
Ernie was an insurance agent who decided he wanted to open his own business via the independent agent channel. He first bought a partnership from J.D. Holder, forming Holder & Cheek Insurance and later purchased the business from Holder, forming Cheek Insurance Agency Inc. and retired after 40 years in the business.
It was written: “Ernie grew to love and serve Sparta and White County after setting up roots in Sparta. He was president of the Sparta Jaycee, national director of the Jaycees, named Young Main of the Year for White County by the Jaycees, United Fund Chairman, Lions Club President, Chamber of Commerce President, President of the White County Quarterback Club, Baker School PTA President, Girl Scout Liaison, Sparta First United Methodist Church Trustee, Caney Fork & Western Railroad Board Member, Highland Cemetery Board of Directors, Sparta Housing Authority Board, Insurers of Tennessee, and FOunder and president of the Upper Cumberland Insurers.”
He has remained a loyal supporter for both the White County High School Warriors and the Sewanee Tigers.
A rumor persists that his blood runs maroon and gray for the Warriors when it isn’t purple for the Tigers.
(Ernie Cheek is another colorful individual who graduated from the University of the South since its inception in 1857 and its resurrection after the Civil War.)