STOW — Steve Pierce was a father, husband, brother, son, runner, photographer, teacher and friend.
Hundreds of people from all of those facets of his life gathered for a memorial service Friday evening in the Stow-Munroe Falls High School auditorium for the school’s photography and graphic design teacher.
Pierce, 53, passed away unexpectedly March 16.
During the service, Pierce's wife, Jennifer, shared how they met — although they lived only about a mile apart, they met on an online dating site. He was her first match on the site, "the best match," she said.
"Steve was an imperfect person, as all of us are. But he was perfect for me," said Jennifer Pierce, who teaches English at the high school. She shared the poem "Birches" by Robert Frost, the first poem she gave to Steve.
Pierce's son, Riley, said his father made him the man he is.
"For many of you, he was your photography teacher," he said. "For me, he taught about how to live life."
Scott Pierce, Steve's brother, shared memories from over the years, from concerts they enjoyed together to childhood road trips and vacations.
"I have to hold on to those memories. We won't be able to make more,” he said. “But hopefully I can make a few with [Steve’s daughter Madison], Riley and [Jennifer]."
A 1983 Stow graduate and 1988 Kent State graduate, Pierce also earned a master’s of art education from the University of Akron in 1995.
Pierce taught in the district for 23 years, starting as an elementary art teacher. He spent the last dozen or so years at the high school.
High school art teacher Robert Putka said he first met Pierce when Pierce was a student in his seventh-grade art class. Over the years, they became friends, and Pierce eventually became like a son to him.
"I always believed that with his love of art, kind and gentle ways, nurturing spirit, philosophical attitude about life, he would be an awesome teacher," said Putka, who convinced Pierce to get into teaching after noticing "something always seemed to be missing for him."
Pierce and his family opened the Riverfront Coffee Mill on Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls in 2000. Pierce also was active in the local trail-running community.
Luke Baum ran with Pierce with the Crooked River Trail Runners. He shared memories he and Pierce made over many miles and hours running the trails in the area.
Baum was with his friend on Pierce’s last run and will run the Vermont 100 in his memory after Pierce didn't finish the race in the past, completing "only" 70 of 100 miles.
Baum said Pierce was an explorer, nicknamed "dawdler" and "tree whisperer," who was photographing races if he wasn't running them and seemed to know everyone.
"Steve loved you all," Baum told Pierce's students in the audience.
The Rev. Jim Case of the Community Church of Stow led the service, with Jim Gill performing an original song on guitar, "Ain't Life Grand," to close the service, with some of the lyrics about Pierce and his family.
"Steve got the job of his dreams, making memories with his camera in hand. Me, I'm making songs about my friend, singing, 'Ain't life grand,' " he sang.
In the community
A GoFundMe started the day after Pierce’s death, titled “In Loving Memory of Steve Pierce,” had raised $25,180 as of Friday night, far exceeding its $10,000 goal, with a portion of the funds going toward a college scholarship for art and photo students at the high school.
Young’s Screenprinting is selling “Pierce Strong” T-shirts for $12 at both of its locations, 4299 Kent Road in Stow and 1245 Munroe Falls Ave. in Cuyahoga Falls. Proceeds will go to the Steve Pierce Scholarship Fund. For more information, call 330-922-5777.
Cuyahoga Falls dessert shop Oh So Sweet, 1300 Sackett Ave., will give all proceeds Friday and Saturday to the scholarship fund. Shop owner Judy Pierce said in a Facebook post Steve Pierce was her brother-in-law. For more information, call 330-858-9139.
A petition was started to rename the high school's photography room in memory of Pierce, with 974 signatures as of Friday night.
“I had Mr. Pierce for one semester. His class had more impact on me than 95 percent of classes I’ve ever taken,” wrote the former student who started the petition. “He was a good man, who left a lasting impact on this community and his work and life should be honored.”
Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.