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reed magazine logoWinter 2009

In Economic Crisis, Stern Scholarship Lends Helping Hand

Back in 1944, when day-dodger Jerry Stern ’48 was a freshman, Reed’s financial aid package was spartan, to put it mildly. The college offered eight scholarship and loan funds, delivering a combined total of just $13,800 in annual student aid. While tuition was a moderate $350, students often struggled to make ends meet. So every day after class, Jerry headed down to his job in the wartime shipyards, returning home after midnight. “I certainly wasn’t in the position to take advantage of the social activities at Reed,” says Jerry, “because I was too busy. Those were not the best of times, trying to pay for the college education.”


Sol Stern ’38 and Betty Jean McCaskill ’41 play Simeon and Amanda Reed in the 1936 Reed College Anniversary Play, written by history professor Dorothy Johansen ’33.

Many decades later, as the economy enters another uncertain time, Jerry Stern has made a gift that helps Reed students in need and memorializes his older brother Sol Stern ’38, who died young. With a half-million-dollar commitment, Jerry has created the Sol Stern and Jerry Stern Scholarship.

“I like to think that Sol will be looking down and smiling to see that others who are in need are assisted with their college education,” says Jerry.

Jerry wanted to go to Reed from the time he was in grade school—because that’s where Sol went. “As a kid, seven years old, I would make the trek from Southwest Portland to Reed probably three times a week to watch Sol play basketball,” he says. “Longtime P.E. Director Charles Botsford was coach. And we watched the plays they put on in the amphitheatre in the canyon.”

In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Sol played Falstaff. In a play about the life of Simeon and Amanda Reed, Sol played Simeon. “He was the star of every one of the performances, and president of everything,” says Jerry, including student body president at Lincoln High, Reed College, and Willamette University law school, for starters.

Tragically, while at Willamette, Sol injured his ankle playing softball and developed a blood clot that nearly killed him. The ensuing medication left him with a weak heart. In 1959, a year after he won a $60,000 award for his client in what was then Oregon’s biggest personal injury case, Sol died of a heart attack in court at age 41.

Jerry’s career took a different track. He left Reed in 1945 to serve in the infantry, but a year later was given a dependency discharge to care for his parents. He took a job at a wholesale plumbing supply business, then opened his own franchise (Familian NW). At the end of his career, he sold the company to an international firm, having achieved a classic version of the American dream. And he’s been helping others get a shot at that opportunity, too.

Jerry’s parents, who were Jewish, came to the U.S. from what is now Belarus in 1911. His father’s family remained in Eastern Europe, then fled from the Germans into Central Russia. Later, they tried to go back. “But the Soviets wouldn’t let them out, and the Polish wouldn’t let them in,” he says.

Following the upheaval of WWII, Jerry’s father lost touch with his family. After his father died, Jerry continued the search, finally finding them in 1989. The clan had settled in Saratov on the Volga river. “[My wife] Helen and I fought our way in; we were the first foreigners in 74 years to be allowed into Saratov because the Soviet city was half military, half scientific.”

After an 18-hour train ride from Moscow, Jerry found 37 members of his family. He eventually brought 30 of them to Portland and helped them get settled, buying a total of six houses and ten vehicles. (The other members of the family went to Israel.)

“This is the greatest country in the world,” Jerry says, “and I love sharing it with people in need, family or otherwise, and that’s why I established a perpetual scholarship in my brother’s name.”
Today, thanks to gifts from alumni such as Jerry and other donors, the college is able to provide $16.25 million in annual institutional support—approximately one thousand times more than it did in 1945. On the other hand, many families still struggle to afford a Reed education. “And you’re going to see a little more of that,” says Jerry. “Because the economy doesn’t look that good at the moment, and there might be a lot more people in need in the future.”

You can help Reed offer opportunity and access during an economic crisis by making a gift of any size. Deploy the envelope inserted in this magazine or give online at To direct your gift to financial aid, simply check the appropriate box.


reed magazine logoWinter 2009