Ervin and Clarence Pierstorf were born in the 1910s on the West Side of Cleveland, Ohio. They grew up assisting their father with the family business — a local pharmacy originally located in the West Park neighborhood. The pharmacy relocated to Fairview Park. At relatively young ages, the brothers assumed the management of the pharmacy upon their father’s death.
The family business saw steady success, magnified with the addition of a photo processing service. Installing a (then) state-of-the-art film processing machine, the Pierstorfs’ Fairview Photo Service became the regional developer for Kodak. Soon, Fairview Photo operated over 200 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, Ohio.
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. They sponsored movie nights at the Fairview High School stadium, with films shown using a new state-of-the-art movie projector they purchased.
The idea of the Fund began when the brothers began lending money to their young pharmacy employees for their college tuition. Upon Clarence’s passing in 1991, his estate was used to establish the Pierstorf College Fund, a one-of-a-kind financial aid program offering interest-free loans to Cleveland-area Lutherans. 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.
“Ervin Pierstorf ensured that loan recipients understood that it was just that — a loan,” stated Karen Blackburn, former board chairman. “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 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 his estate 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.”
“Erv was a steward of grace. Until the age of 97, Erv met with every student, gave them life advice, a handshake, a loan, with the words, ‘Remember to pay me back.’”
— Karen Blackburn, Former Board Chairman