Education and community leaders are remembering Ernest Trefz as a dedicated family man, business leader and community role model. Trefz, a longtime Trumbull resident, died Saturday at age 84.
The son of German immigrants, Trefz grew up helping his father deliver meat and cold cuts to family-run stores in Bridgeport. Though he could not afford to go to college himself, he parlayed his work experience, customer-service savvy and entrepreneurial drive to open the state’s first McDonald’s restaurant, eventually becoming one of the region’s most important business moguls and philanthropists.
Neil Salonen, University of Bridgeport president, called Trefz one of the school’s staunchest supporters, whose leadership brought the university back from the tough times it experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.
“While many industry leaders and others stepped away, Ernie never wavered with his commitment to the city and the institutions within the city,” said Salonen. “His intent was always for the good of the university and the city, and we have benefited enormously because of it. UB, like so many others in the Bridgeport region, will miss his leadership and his ceaseless loyalty.”
It was Trefz’s vision and generosity that led to the opening of the Ernest C. Trefz School of Business. Founded with an emphasis on entrepreneurship, the business school opened in 2014. The Student Entrepreneur Center, also funded by Trefz, opened the following year.
Trefz, through the Ernie and Joan Trefz Family Foundation, was also one of the largest benefactors of the Trumbull-based Kennedy Center. In 2007 his matching gift of $50,000 allowed the local non-profit agency to renovate its Trumbull facility.
“Ernie Trefz will be very much missed in our community,” said Kennedy Center President and CEO Martin Schwartz. “The Kennedy Center is forever indebted to him for his unwavering commitment and generosity to our organization and to the persons with disabilities we proudly serve.”