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Well-heeled, to the very end

Mayo's Natalie Sorajja
Alice Ernster, of Chatfield, has a one-of-a-kind headstone.
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CHATFIELD — To say Alice Ernster is a flashy dresser would be an understatement of biblical proportions.

"Obnoxious, to say the least," the Chatfield woman said with a laugh.

Of particular note in her colorful wardrobe are her shoes: impossibly high stiletto heels with platform soles. Ernster has them in many colors, patterns and styles, and has become known everywhere she goes for the footwear.

"The other day, I was out running some errands, and I was just wearing a pair of flats," she said. "You wouldn't believe the number of people who came up to me and whispered, 'Are you OK? Is something wrong?'"

It's become such a part of her personality that Ernster has decided to have her style follow her to the hereafter.

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In a cemetery in Caledonia, Ernster's custom-made headstone is already in place between the markers for her parents and a brother.

It is, for lack of a better description, a red granite high-heeled, peep-toe pump, with "rhinestones" and a bow. The unique gravestone has already gotten a lot of attention, as you might imagine.

"My mom died in 2015," Ernster said, "and my family gave me a hard time, because everybody noticed my shoe instead of paying attention" at her mother's grave site.

Created by La Crosse Memorials, the idea to memorialize her love of shoes came to her in, of course, the cemetery.

"I went out to the cemetery with the (caretaker)," she said, "and saw his headstone, which had sparkles in it. I said, 'I'd like that,' because I like anything that sparkles, glitters or shines."

Ernster's family isn't new to custom markers: Her parents raised Arabian horses, prompting her father to choose to have a carved horse head next to his stone.

Though her health is good, Ernster soon commissioned her marker, the design not terribly surprising to those who know her.

Her three daughters, she said, "just kind of shake their head at me." The idea, though, answers a question she asks often: Do we smile enough today?

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Ernster hasn't always had such a dramatic flair for clothing, shoes and jewelry, she admitted.

"No, I was dowdy," she said, describing her days as a real estate broker and the owner of the Val-A Lodge and the Crystal Ballroom, both in Chatfield.

It was a divorce and a comment from a duplicate bridge player that turned her around.

"I grew up in a box, and I was 50 before I got out," Ernster said with a smile. "I have a lot of coupons to redeem... One day, one of the women at bridge said to me, 'you know, Alice, you're a real floozy.'"

Instead of being insulted, Ernster said, "I asked, 'well, do you like floozies?' And she did. So now I have a reputation to uphold."

She wears four-inch heels regularly, without so much as a turned ankle or a blister.

"God has given me great feet," Ernster said. "I can wear cheap shoes, no problem."

She goes dancing several times a week — "Music sweeps away the cobwebs of the soul," she said — and has backpacked across Europe with a granddaughter. Her home is filled with shoe-themed items, gifts from friends and family.

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The base of her unique gravestone provides a heavenly warning: "Look out, Lord, I'm coming," but "not yet," Ernster said. "I'm planning my surprise birthday party in November."

She laughs at the response her plan typically brings. She'll turn 75, she said, and thought the milestone deserved a party. Her daughters are helping her, on one condition:

"I just have to act really surprised," Ernster said, even though "everyone knows it's my surprise party that I planned myself."

And when the day comes that she slips off her shoes for the final time, Ernster plans to be cremated; her ashes will be placed in the sole of that red peep-toe pump that sits in a tiny Caledonia cemetery.

"You know what that means, right?" she asked. "I'll literally be the little old lady in the shoe."

Related Topics: CHATFIELD
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