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Jerome Stern ’48

Devoted son, adoring little brother, loving husband and father, Jerry was also an entrepreneur, community leader, philanthropist, and so much more.

He was born to immigrant parents, idolized his older brothers, Sol and Reuben, and suffered with the family through serious health issues and increasingly difficult financial straits. These experiences informed his life, leaving him forever able to empathize with the pain and difficulties of others.

Jerry began working in the shipyards as a chipper at the age of 15. After graduating from Lincoln High School, Jerry came to Reed, where he studied premed. After a year and a half of college he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and then obtained compassionate leave to care for his parents. Consequently, he grew up quickly, and took on serious responsibilities in his late teens.

At a dance he met Helen Rubenstein, a teenager from Medford, and pursued her to UC Berkeley, where he charmed her into marrying him. Vivacious and beautiful, Helen was the strength behind Jerry and a full partner in all his accomplishments. Together they faced life’s storms and triumphs for 67 years.

In 1969, he founded Familian Northwest, often considered his “fourth child.” It grew from a group of six men working out of a trailer near the Banfield Freeway to a multi-state wholesale plumbing and pipe empire with 50 branches and more than 2,500 employees. He and his son, Tom, were devoted to their employees, always seeking opportunities to foster their growth and wellbeing. When they sold the company in 1988, Jerry embarked on a career of philanthropy. Active in the Portland Jewish community, he served on numerous boards, supported IRCO, Portland Center Stage, and countless Oregon Jewish agencies and synagogues. 

Jerry was also active in his support of Reed, establishing the Sol Stern and Jerry Stern Scholarship for students in financial need in honor of his beloved older brother Sol Stern ’38

Generous with his time and money, he quietly performed acts of kindness. He fulfilled a lifelong dream to find and help his first cousins, living in a closed military/industrial city in Russia, move to the United States. After years of research and mountains of red tape, Jerry and Helen traveled to Saratov, where he was united with his family. Ultimately he brought 25 relatives to Portland, financing their resettlement, providing homes, jobs and medical care for them. He joined the board of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which had resettled his parents, and served as Western Regional Chairman of United Jewish Appeal, leading numerous international missions to educate people on the plight of refugees. One of his most ambitious accomplishments was to charter a 737 to bring refugees to Israel from Russia.

Jerry is survived by his wife, Helen; children, Eve Stern and Les Gutfreund, Tom and Mary Jane Stern, and Sharon Stern and Stephen Rallison; grandchildren, Benjamin and Gail Singer, Anna and Eric Kodesch, Hailey and Evan Bernstein, Jonathan Singer, Bradley and Lara Stern, Harrison Hess, Alexander Hess and Lindsey Stern; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2016

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