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Mark Hayward's City Matters: A simple man wills $176k to 5 city charities

Ernie Denoncourt lived most of his life in a small West Side apartment.

He never married. He stopped working in his late 40s, sidelined by cirrhosis of the liver. He took his breakfast every day at Chez Vachon. Afternoons were for banter about politics and world news at the Granite Square Dunkin' Donuts.

Highlights of his life included an occasional trip to Foxwoods, visits to Canada, weekend dinners at a former tenant's home and his daily ration of two beers. He was hardly a man of prominence.

But Denoncourt drew the attention of five city charities this summer when his estate divided $176,000 among them.

"It's humbling," said Charlie Sherman, executive director of New Horizons soup kitchen and homeless shelter, which received a $20,000 check. "Sometimes I go home and say to my wife 'I hope people out there realize what we're doing.' Sometimes you wonder."

If New Horizons ever gave food or a meal to Denoncourt, Sherman didn't know about it.

In these days of rampant materialism, someone like Denoncourt stands out. His life was simple. His generosity was appreciated by friends, even strangers. He valued a night of conversation and laughs over the latest plasma or Blu-ray attempt at mind control.

"He was very friendly. He was very proud of his neighborhood and his home. At one time, he knew everyone in the neighborhood," said Sherry Innie.

She met Denoncourt in 1992 when her boyfriend rented a third-floor apartment in Denoncourt's triple decker at 393 Rimmon St.

Denoncourt lived on the first floor, half of the first floor that is. His apartment amounted to a bedroom, living room and kitchen.

Innie said she visited Denoncourt nightly when her boyfriend, Scott Hieter, lived upstairs. They'd have a beer and chat. He talked about St. Marie Church, growing up with nuns, stocks, politics and genealogy. He was proud of his French-Canadian heritage.

In a recent picture of Denoncourt, he stares into the camera with a forced pose. His blue eyes are soothing and framed by bushy eyebrows. His lips are separated as if he's ready to continue a tale once the photography session ends.

"He was very frugal; it didn't cost him much to live," Innie said. She remembers Denoncourt ditching a pair of $400 eyeglasses for the Dollar Store variety.

At Chez Vachon, Denoncourt sat at the same window seat every morning and chatted with a friend. He ordered an egg and toast, said waitress Linda Monahan. Sometimes in the afternoon, he returned and indulged his sweet tooth with a piece of chocolate cream pie.

"For 30 years, I waited on him nearly every day," she said.

Denoncourt worked at a plumbing supply company before getting sick. He went on disability and bought the triple-decker from his mother. He later received an inheritance from an aunt, and he told friends his investments made a lot of money during the 1980s.

The executor of the estate, Innie said the donations were set out in five pages of meticulous instructions that Denoncourt left before dying last September. He was 74. About half of Denoncourt's money went to charity; the other half went to friends, including Innie.

Checks also went to New Hampshire Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Sisters of Holy Cross and St. Marie Church, where he faithfully attended Mass on Saturday nights.

New Hampshire Catholic Charities received about $43,500, Innie said. Lisa Merrill-Burzak, development director at Catholic Charities, called it substantial.

"We don't live in the world of million-dollar, two-million-dollar gifts in New Hampshire," she said.

Innie said she's not surprised that Denoncourt was so generous. He often talked about the charities, and at Christmastime he would make donations.

"Some of his money, he inherited," Innie said. "He wanted to do the same for others, good things for others."

Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and on He can be reached at

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