Koerner Family outside

The Koerner Family Funds: Like Parents, like Daughters

Education was a cornerstone for the Koerner kids, instilled by their successful and civic-minded parents. Now, their parents’ legacy of shaping young minds to supporting vital causes lives on through the Community Foundation, ensuring a brighter future for generations to come.

While working at her first professional job after college, Sue Pearson heard a pitch to donate to the local United Way. She didn’t hesitate a bit. “Of course I’m going to give to the United Way,” she remembers thinking. “Dad does.”

Her father, Jack Koerner, served as board president for the United Way of Central New York when she was growing up. “I remember seeing a picture of him when he beat the goal for the organization’s annual community campaign,” she said. “He was very successful, competitive and charismatic. You definitely wanted Dad on your team.”

Koerner Family Photo
Koerner Family

Pearson, the youngest of five, remembers her parents as hard-working, generous and civic minded. Jack, owner of Koerner Ford car dealerships, died May 6, 2022, at age 90. Polly Koerner died October 3, 2023, also at 90. They had been married 68 years and lived for decades in Cazenovia, where they raised a family; cared for horses at their beloved Tamarack Ridge Farm; and supported many organizations by serving as volunteers, board members and donors.

Attending college was assumed for the Koerner kids. “It was an expectation we would go and get a four-year degree,” Pearson said. “Dad was a successful businessman. He understood the value of higher education.”

The Koerners always supported their alma maters — Dartmouth College and Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire — and later added their children’s alma maters to their list. They served on the Parents Association for Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, which four of their children attended.

In addition to leading the United Way board, Jack also served on numerous boards at First Presbyterian Church of Cazenovia and was a Cazenovia College trustee for two separate terms. Polly volunteered with the Junior League of Syracuse, CazCares, Cazenovia Library, Cazenovia College and the Cazenovia Watercolor Society. “They were classic, stoic people who did not look for attention,” Pearson said. “They appreciated recognition, but being involved in the community was just what they did.”

Now the Koerners’ four daughters will carry on their generosity through individual donor-advised funds that will allow them to support the causes they care about. Jack and Polly created a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation in 1997 and established two charitable gift annuities.

As the couple designated, remaining assets from the three funds have been pooled and divided evenly among four donor-advised funds — one each for daughters Kathy, Lesley, Stephanie and Sue. After all the daughters pass away, all the money from their individual donor-advised funds will roll back into the Koerner Family Fund to support greatest needs through our Community Grantmaking program.

The Koerners also created a memorial scholarship through the Community Foundation in memory of their son, John, who died in a car accident in 1973. The annual scholarship goes to a Cazenovia High School student who exhibits ideals of self-improvement and good citizenship.

Jack and Polly Koerner dancing at their daughter Stephanie’s wedding
Jack and Polly Koerner at their daughter Stephanie’s wedding in August 1986

Jack and Polly’s daughters expect to continue supporting some causes their parents cared most about, including Lake George environmental and preservation causes, and numerous Cazenovia-area civic and community service organizations.The sisters’ current giving supports their alma maters, organizations in their hometown of Cazenovia, mental health causes, therapeutic horsemanship, Meals on Wheels, breast cancer research, the American Red Cross, and children who are orphaned by HIV/Aids in Uganda.

Jack and Polly never explicitly told their daughters they should donate to causes they cared about. Still, Pearson, like her sisters, followed their example and has consistently donated to the schools she attended — Emma Willard School in Troy and Dickinson College in Pennsylvania — and volunteers for civic and community groups. Now she hopes her three daughters, who are in their 20s, carry on the family tradition and support their own schools and causes that are of interest to them.

“Our parents never told us we had to support any particular organization,” Pearson said. “It was ingrained in me and my sisters that this was what you do.”

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