St. Clair County mother gives back in honor of daughter who drowned in Lake Michigan

Ernster, MacDonald drowned in Lake Michigan early August

Kory Ernster and Emily MacDonald died in Lake Michigan August 8 when they were swimming in South Haven.

COLUMBUS TOWNSHIP, Mich. – It started out as a beautiful day at the beach but moments later it became a nightmare.

Kory Ernster and Emily MacDonald died in Lake Michigan on August 8 when they were swimming in South Haven.

Ernster was 22 and from Novi, MacDonald was 19 from Columbus Township in St. Clair County. Both families are devastated but determined to keep their memories alive.

MacDonald’s mother, Lisa MacDonald referred to Ernster and her daughter as soulmates. She said the two were together for about five years, both went to Michigan State University and were planning their lives together.

“They got their wish their wish, they’re together forever but not in the way that I had hoped,” said MacDonald.

It’s hard for her to put into words how painful these last few weeks have been.

“I thought losing my husband was the worst pain ever; losing a child is 10 times worse,” MacDonald said.

She finds comfort in reflecting on the last special conversations the two had together. There’s one conversation that stood out from the rest.

“Emily came home from college much more mature, she appreciated that I had saved up money for her while she had friends working three jobs, failing out, friends who weren’t getting scholarships, friends that weren’t getting loans,” said MacDonald.

Her daughter wanted to do something to help them out, but died before she could. Now, Lisa MacDonald is raising money to donate to those friends her daughter was so worried about. So far, the community has raised $12,000. MacDonald already met with one recipient and donated $4,000.

“I’m hoping that by us helping somebody, somebody will help somebody else,” said MacDonald. “It will just keep going and maybe 10 people down the road, they don’t know it started from Emily but you know in the universe we know it started with Emily.”

MacDonald’s hope is to give money to at least five more college students but it all depends on donations.

You can donate through Venmo. Search for username @Lisa-MacDonald-84. If asked to verify phone number associated with the account, enter 1215. Please add memorial gift in memo line.

Ernster’s family is also getting an outpour of community support for a scholarship in his honor.


About the Author:

Megan Woods is thrilled to be back home and reporting at Local 4. She joined the team in September 2021. Before returning to Michigan, Megan reported at stations across the country including Northern Michigan, Southwest Louisiana and a sister station in Southwest Virginia.