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Foundation Board Posthumously Bestows Ernie Gemperle with Honoring the Past, Forging the Future Award

Ernie Gemperle came from humble beginnings as an immigrant to this country, and though he achieved great success in his chosen field raising chickens and producing eggs, he never lost his humility — or his humanity.

That was evident when the Stanislaus State Foundation Board presented its Honoring the Past, Forging the Future Award to the late board president’s family at its annual holiday gathering.

Ernie Gemperle, who passed away in 2008, touched the lives of Stan State students in ways they will never know. They may know his name if they have a class in the Ernie Gemperle Lecture Hall in Demergasso-Bava Hall — a space funded by his seven adult children — but students living in the campus residences can thank him, too.

As recounted by his longtime friend Bob Triebsch, who encouraged Gemperle to join the Foundation Board in 1989, Gemperle, while serving as board president from 1992-1993, spearheaded the fundraising and construction of the first on-campus residences to replace the single building across Geer Road that had for years served as student housing.

Rather than waiting for the state to approve and complete a project the board saw as a priority, it relied on the expertise of its members, including accountants, attorneys and businessmen to fast track the project.

“Ernie was a bulldog and would get it done,” Triebsch said.

Within two years, the first residence was built with money from bonds the group purchased. There was enough money left after the completion of the first building to construct a second residence.

It was just one of many contributions Ernie Gemperle made in service to the University in the town he chose to make his own after a year spent in Washington state when he arrived from his native Switzerland in 1949.

So impactful was he on the community, that when he passed away, Triebsch and the late Bill Ahlem, the owner of Hilmar Cheese and an emeritus board member, created the Ernie Gemperle Scholarship in his honor and more than $500,000 was donated.

His adult children, many of whom operate Gemperle Enterprises, donated $250,000 in 2015 in their father’s honor to establish an endowment for future scholarships. That same year, they established the Gemperle Family Farms College Scholarship fund in conjunction with the Stanislaus Community Foundation to help fund higher education for children and grandchildren of Gemperle Farms employees.

“He set the example for all of us to aim higher and give back,” his son, Steve Gemperle, president of Gemperle Enterprises, said in accepting the award on behalf of his siblings. “I know there are a lot of people in the community who give back and are not recognized, or not as often, but there are so many people who are worthy of these awards, that it’s truly an honor, on behalf of my family, to accept this for Ernie.”

Steve Gemperle noted it was an award for both of his parents. His father was free to run his business and devote time to his favorite causes because his mom was equally dedicated to rearing their seven children.

It was a partnership formed in their native Switzerland. After establishing himself in Turlock and taking time to serve stateside in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Ernie Gemperle returned to Switzerland to marry Annemarie Dezlhofer in 1955.

As his business thrived and his family grew, Ernie Gemperle managed to devote time and money to his church — helping to build the Newman Center for Catholic students — the Boys Scouts, Rotary Club and other causes. He helped with the founding of the United Samaritan Foundation and his children, who run Gemperle Enterprises, continue to support the organization by donating eggs. The company also donates to school breakfast/lunch programs.

Ernie Gemperle’s is a legacy his children are determined to continue. Not only have they continued to donate to the University to support students, but Steve Gemperle followed his father’s footsteps in leading the family company and soon will follow him as Foundation Board President.

Steve Gemperle leads a business that his father didn’t seem to take long establishing.

Arriving with little to his name at the age of 20 in search of the American Dream, he leased land in Washington state with 6,000 chickens and after a year, made his way to Turlock.

He was forward thinking in running his business, becoming among the first to use a bulk feed tank rather than feed sacks, and pioneered use of Aquamagic egg washers, which improved egg safety.

He established Gemperle Enterprises and upgraded his egg packing facilities. As his offspring joined the business, they modernized production to provide consumers with the highest quality eggs possible at an affordable price. His company led the way in bringing organic and specialty eggs to five western states.

Ernie served as chairman of Nulaid Foods and was on the boards of Nucal Foods, Nu-West Milling, National Foods and West Coast UEP. He also served on the California Egg Commission.

One of his11 siblings, Walter, joined Gemperle in 1961 and started Gemperle Family Orchards, which now has just over 1,000 acres of almond trees. Ernie, though, remained committed to his egg-production business, the University and other causes.

In addition to the scholarships established by his friends and children, he donated to Stan State funds and drives, including establishing the Annemarie Gemperle Memorial Scholarship Endowment, the Ernie and Annemarie Gemperle Presidential Scholars and the Ernie Gemperle Valedictorian Scholarship.

He also was honored with the establishment of the Ernie T. Gemperle Endowed Chair of Finance, first awarded to Finance Associate Professor Yili Lian in 2021.

He wasn’t a man who sought attention, so his name is not splashed all over Turlock. His children bought land for a park named in his honor and had the lecture hall named for him at Stan State.

Most of his contributions, though profound, were done quietly, as he made lives better for Stan State students for years to come. And, because of his generosity, and the contributions that others saw, the scholarship in his honor continues to support students in obtaining an education.

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Updated: December 18, 2023