Ervin and Clarence Pierstorf were born in the 1910s on the West Side of Cleveland, Ohio. They grew up assisting their father, the owner of a local pharmacy originally located in West Park, with the family business. At relatively young ages, the brothers assumed the management of the pharmacy upon their father's death in his 40s. By then, the pharmacy had relocated to Fairview Park.
The family-run business saw steady success, especially with the addition of a photo processing service to the already thriving pharmacy. Installing a (then) state-of-the-art film processing machine, the Pierstorfs' Fairview Photo Service became the regional developer for Kodak. Soon, Fairview Photo had over two hundred trucks that picked up film from establishments all over Northeast Ohio, brought it back to Fairview Photo for processing, and then delivered the finished prints back to the original establishments.
When their mother required nursing home care, the Pierstorf brothers constructed a brand new facility, Oakridge Home, in Westlake.
Although their business was thriving and the brothers became quite wealthy, they continued to live modestly. They enjoyed giving back to their local community through an annual holiday party held at the Fairview Theater and through movie nights at the Fairview High School stadium, with movies shown via a new state-of-the-art movie projector they purchased.
The idea of the Fund began when the brothers started lending money to their young pharmacy employees for their college tuition. Upon Clarence Pierstorf's passing in 2005, his $5 million estate was used to establish the Pierstorf Memorial Fund, a loan program that offers zero-interest loans to Cleveland-area Lutheran students. In the beginning, the Fund was primarily offered to college-bound students at Messiah Lutheran Church, which was the home church of the Pierstorf family.
Today, the Pierstorf Memorial Fund seeds two funds, one for no-interest undergraduate loans for Lutheran students from Ohio. The Fund's loans are now available to applicants from any Lutheran church in Ohio, although the full state rollout will be a few years in the making. The second avenue of the Fund is for no-interest, need-based loans for pharmacy students at Ohio Northern University. The Pierstorf Family Pharmacy Museum is located in the Pierstorf Annex at Ohio Northern.
"Ervin Pierstorf ensured that loan recipients understood that it was just that -- a loan. Karen Blackburn stated, "Erv wanted them to know that by paying it back, they would help the next in line. It's not a handout. That's why he didn't want the loan to be too significant. If it was too large, they'd have trouble paying it back. It's the perfect amount for students to take responsibility for their college."
Because of this foresight, the loan has a higher payback percentage than other loan programs. Marty Uhle, former Executive Director of the Pierstorf Memorial Fund, says, "That's the incredible thing. Everyone pays us back. Erv used to personally hand out all the checks and he would tell the kids, 'Respect your parents, do well in school, and pay us back!'"
Ervin Pierstorf lived to be 100 years old, passing in 2016. His modest lifestyle allowed him to leave a staggering $17 million to the Fund. Blackburn said, "Nobody knew. He was very private about his wealth. He probably owned one suit and drove the same car his entire life."Even after twenty-five years of loan distributions to deserving students, the Fund today stands at approximately $22 million, with an equal disbursement each year to both loan programs.
Please enjoy the full gallery of Pierstorf Memorial Fund images below: