Corrections scholarship honors former SJR State security officers Ernie McRae and Horace Sermon
St. Johns River State College President Joe Pickens is pleased to announce a Florida Corrections Officer Academy scholarship honoring former SJR State security officers — the late Earnest (Ernie) McRae and his longtime colleague and close friend, Horace Sermon. The two share approximately 20 years of combined service at SJR State and total almost 50 years of collective service in Florida’s correction system. “Ernie and Horace had a special bond, and the College has a bond with them,” Pickens said.
McRae and Sermon graduated from Central Academy in Palatka (now Jenkins Middle School) in 1963. McRae’s career includes serving in the field of corrections for 23 years, including working in Boston in the early 1960s. McRae returned to Florida and served at the Martin Correctional Institution and later at the Okeechobee Correctional Institution, where he retired as a sergeant. When McRae returned to Palatka, he joined SJR State as a security officer in 2007 and worked 13 years until his passing in November 2020. McRae is fondly remembered by the SJR State community for his fun-loving personality, strong work ethic and his love of the College’s athletic games. “The games just won't be the same without him,” said Pickens, noting the numerous games McRae worked at in his security officer role.
According to SJR State safety and security office administrative assistant Melodi Weaver, “Ernie loved working the athletic events and would often come in early to watch the teams warm up and make sure they had everything they needed for their game when it started,” she said. Baseball head coach Ross Jones said McRae was a fixture of SJR State baseball. “He hated to lose more than I did, and he had a laugh that was infectious. Ernie will be sorely missed by everyone,” Jones said.
McRae’s work ethic also left a lasting impression. Weaver recalled how he would show up to work hours in advance. “Ernie always wanted to be prepared. He was very conscientious about his duties and wanted to make sure everything was right when his shift started,” she said.
“Some years after he retired from corrections,” Weaver continued, “Ernie suggested to Horace that he come to work at the College as a part-time guard a few days a week to 'get off the couch’ and have something to do. He did, and the rest is history.”
Reflecting on their longtime friendship, Sermon credits McRae for his move back to Palatka and the opportunity to serve in his hometown. "Ernie was the reason I moved back to Palatka,” said Sermon. “I always wanted to give back to where I was born and raised, and the opportunity came to me at St. Johns. My calling is to serve, and that was my main goal — to serve where I grew up, so I give Ernie credit for that.”
Before entering the field of corrections, Sermon worked as a police officer in New York. Upon his return to Florida, he began his corrections training in Starke, but later transferred to SJR State to complete his training when the corrections program became available. Sermon would go on to spend 25 years in the field, retiring as an assistant warden from Broward Correctional Institution in Fort Lauderdale.
According to SJR State’s director of campus safety James Griffith, “Horace is simply a fantastic person. He is a sweet man with a big heart and was a dedicated employee. On several occasions, he came in early and stayed late on a moment’s notice due to shift shortages,” Griffith said. “He knew how to work with people. As imposing as he was physically, he could still relate to anyone with his genuine kindness showing through. I witnessed him sweet talk a local kid into helping out on a vandalism case once. He solved the case and made a friend in the process. It’s unfortunate that he can no longer work. He is sorely missed.”
Sermon said he would still be working at SJR State if he wasn’t dealing with health issues, and he is overwhelmed and honored beyond words about SJR State creating a scholarship for corrections students in honor of him and his longtime buddy. Sermon’s wife, Joyce, and McRae’s wife, Georgia, are hopeful about what this means for younger generations. "It's a field that offers many benefits, and it can also open up doors to other fields,” said Georgia, who, like her husband, served in the field of corrections.
According to Joyce, “To have others who are interested in corrections devote their lives to helping younger males is much needed now with so much going on… Many young males are in need guidance, and I think this scholarship opportunity will encourage some of them to get there and serve, as well,” she stated, remembering the countless young males mentored and ministered to by her husband. “He (Horace) has been an encouragement for a lot of young men and was there to steer them in the right direction,” Joyce explained. “His calling was to be a preacher, but he says he had to also preach to the inmates, so he’s hoping God will also give him that credit,” she said with a laugh.
For questions regarding the McRae-Sermon Scholarship, contact the SJR State Foundation Office at 386-312-4100. Classes for the Florida Corrections Officer Academy begin in July. Graduates from Jenkins Middle School will be given recipient priority with this scholarship, which covers the full cost of the training program.
The SJR State Corrections curriculum is prescribed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission in accordance with Florida Statutes. Upon completion of the program, candidates will be eligible to take the state exam for corrections officer. For more information, visit sjrstate.edu/correct.html.
SJR State President Joe Pickens stands with former security officer Horace Sermon and Georgia McRae, who holds a photo of her late husband, Ernie. The McRae-Sermon Scholarship was recently announced in honor of the two’s career in the field of corrections.
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