Jerry Damerow was not born or raised in Arkansas. A few years ago, he and his wife, Sherri, were residents of wealthy Westchester County in New York, thanks to Jerry’s job as managing partner at the major accounting firm Ernst & Young. The Damerows had already spent five successful years working for the company in Indonesia.
The company had another important task in mind for Damerow in another place.
“I was called into the president’s office and they said, ‘We want to send you to Little Rock to help us with a merger,'” Damerow says.
Damerow’s New York friends were alarmed and advised him to decline the assignment. Arkansas was just a part of that vast uncultivated country beyond the Hudson River. Why go there?
A dutiful employee, Damerow felt he owed Ernst & Young at least a visit to Arkansas before making a commitment.
“It was night and so it was dark when I flew to Little Rock,” Damerow recalled. “I remember waking up the next morning. Looking out my hotel window, there was a sign across the street that said ‘Camelot’ and there was this beautiful, swirling river. I thought, ‘Um, that looks looking pretty good.” I called my wife and said, “You’ve got to come down here and check this place out.”
Damerow accepted the transfer to Little Rock and the couple lived here for several years. Another transfer found Damerows in Puerto Rico before retiring and returning to the place that felt like home.
“We came back to Little Rock and it just felt right,” Damerow says. “The people here are fantastic. We loved our time here. It’s such a great place.”
The Damerows aren’t content to enjoy the good life in Arkansas and leave it at that. Although retired, Jerry is involved in the community in various ways, including serving on the board of Southern Bancorp. College education is a particular passion for the couple.
The Damerows donated $1 million to support science majors at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The gift benefits the Jerry and Sherri Damerow Endowed Science Scholarship, which provides scholarships to students majoring in astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and earth sciences. The scholarship provides assistance with education-related expenses including tuition, fees, books, and room and board.
“Jerry Damerow is the kind of person who blossoms wherever he is planted,” says UALR Chancellor Christina S. Drale. “For Jerry, that means getting involved in causes that improve lives and build a better future. I’m thrilled he chose to get involved [UALR] and support our mission; he is an ideal booster. He leads by example, he is willing to help where needed, and he spends time getting to know the cause and the people behind it so he can be an effective ambassador. Jerry’s faith in us and his constant support supersedes our efforts every day.
SOAPBOX DERBY RACER
Suburban Akron, Ohio, was the setting for the first 18 years of Damerow’s life. An older brother was his only sibling. His father worked for BF Goodrich and his mother was a secretary for a Lutheran church in downtown Akron.
Akron was a city of considerable size, but Damerow and his family lived on the outskirts of the city.
“Where we lived was to be on the edge of the country,” says Damerow. “We were close to the farms and would see farmers with their horses.”
The highlight of Damerow’s early life was a particular Akron obsession — the soapbox derby. Garages all over that part of Ohio were alive with building non-motorized race cars.
“This one [soapbox derby cars] were the ones you sit in,” says Damerow. “We had to build these from scratch. We had to go to the lumberyard and get these big pieces of wood. It was a great father-son experience. It was absolutely wonderful.”
While he remembers winning the soapbox derby heat, Damerow never raised the championship trophy. It didn’t matter as the experience left him with great memories along with “working with tools, and I enjoy that to this day.”
The idea of going on after high school to get a college education was a fixture in Damerow’s house. However, there wasn’t much spare money to pay for tuition.
“My parents weren’t rich, but they were committed to getting me and my brother to college,” Damerow says. “I had wonderful parents, but both of my parents had to work. While I was in high school, I worked three jobs. By the time I finished, I had saved enough to cover my first year and half of my college pay.”
Damerow says his family couldn’t afford to send him to Ohio State so he enrolled at nearby Kent State. He remembers his mother trying to soften the blow by telling him that Kent State was better than the bigger university because “it was better to be a big fish in a small pond.”
At Kent State, Damerow became interested in architecture because of a mechanical drawing class that captured his imagination. It didn’t take Damerow long to realize that the world of accounting, and not architecture, was where he belonged.
“It was obvious that the world would be better if I did something other than architecture,” says Damerow.
In the early to mid-1960s, violent conflicts stemming from the civil rights movement and protests over the expanding Vietnam War seemed an almost daily occurrence in the United States. As a young man fresh out of Kent State, Damerow had a front-row seat to the turmoil.
“Society really looked like it was going to be unhappy,” says Damerow. “President Kennedy was assassinated. Then Martin Luther King. It was a really terrifying time.”
Damerow became a member of the Ohio National Guard. His unit was the one called in to quell student protests at Kent State. The infamous confrontation between students and the guards left four dead and nine others injured.
“My section of the line was near one of the students who was shot and killed,” Damerow says. “That was a painful experience.”
Not wanting to focus on what is being done, Damerow points out what he sees as a positive aspect. The troubled past “has good news for us today. We had a lot of disharmony then, but we were able to get through it and come together. Of course, now we have a lot of division.”
A fellow brother’s brother was responsible for Damerow meeting the woman who would later become his wife.
“It was after college,” says Damerow. “We were both 28 when we got married. She’s gorgeous. I was scared to ask her out. I can’t remember what we did for our first date. But for our second, I took her to see the Cleveland Orchestra . I thought I’d better impress her.”
FIRST STOP: INDONESIA
The general idea of an accountant doing an accounting job does not include ritzy overseas trips to exotic locales. Damerow’s employment at Arthur Young & Co., an international firm with offices all over the world, gave the lie to that cliché rather quickly. First stop abroad for Damerow and his wife? Indonesia.
“Back then there were a lot of oil and gas companies there and we did the accounting work for those companies,” says Damerow. “It was a pretty important location for our company. My wife and I were both interested in that kind of experience. That part of the world is so different from Akron, Ohio.”
While there, Damerow’s culture shock did not affect his work. One of his proudest moments in his accounting firm came in the Indonesia office.
I found that our Indonesian workers were not paid the same as our expatriates,” says Damerow. “These different sets of workers were equally skilled. I constructed a package of equal pay for equal work. At my leaving party, there was genuine affection from my Indonesian colleagues. I will never forget that.”
Now able to look back on his long career, Damerow counts his working days as a “rich, rewarding experience.”
“Some of the work ethic I picked up as a young lad rubbed off on me,” says Damerow. “When I got into the business, it changed. The belief in my business when I started was that you had to do a good job and more work would come to you. Then it was understood that you had to go out and get business to the company. What I was good at was selling, bringing in new customers. For me, it was a lot of fun.”
It seems that only when Damerow retired from accounting completely did he really get to work. He doesn’t have a company to work for as much as an overall goal – to improve and advance life in Central Arkansas.
He served as a member and past director of the Rotary Club of Little Rock, past board chair of the EAST Initiative, chair of the CareLink board of directors, member of the UALR Business Advisory Council and College of Science and Mathematics Advisory Council.
Sherri Damerow volunteers with Literacy Action of Central Arkansas and the Humane Society of Pulaski County. It is easy to recognize that the couple is working together to contribute to the community.
“The Damerows have been active in promoting our community for a long time, and this generously [donation to UALR] aligns well with their continued gift of time to impact our community for the better both now and in the future,” said Dr. Lawrence Whitman, dean of the Donaghey College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Damerow’s plea for a sizable donation to UALR is easy to explain. However, Jerry doesn’t think a college education is a one-size-fits-all solution.
“I don’t believe college is right for everyone,” Damerow says. “I saw children [at UALR] who come from families like mine, who don’t have much money. We need to support these young scientists and engineers who are building the economy.”
Damerow says the administration at UALR has the school on the right track.
“The leadership there is pretty outstanding,” says Damerow. “The chancellor is a good academic, but she’s also a great strategic thinker. Instead of cutting programs across the board, she looked at the entire university and said, ‘Where can we excel?’ The more I see, the more impressed I am.”
The Damerows might be transplants but even native Arkansans have to applaud what the couple has accomplished.
“We love Arkansas and this is home,” Damerow says. “From our point of view, it is time to say thank you, not in words, but in deeds.”
• Place of birth: Akron, Ohio
• A FAVORITE QUOTE: “If Arkansans don’t build UALR, who will?”
• I’M CURRENTLY READING: “Winthrop Rockefeller: From New Yorker to Arkansawyer” by UALR Professor John A. Kirk.
• SOMETHING SURPRISING ABOUT ME: I cut my own grass. It’s the only thing I do where I see immediate results.
• Worst advice I got: “Don’t go to Arkansas, it’s over the Hudson” – my New York neighbors.
• BEST ADVICE I GOT: “You can be a philanthropist, young man! Your financial contribution should be within your means. But don’t just write a check, get involved!”– Fred Crawford, CEO and Founder of TRW .
• QUESTION I AM ALWAYS ASKED: How did you get that beautiful woman to marry you?
• MY GUESTS AT MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY: My grandparents, my great-great-grandparents, my great-great-great-grandparents and a German translator to record oral histories from everyone and look up my genealogy work.
• ONE WORD TO SUM UP ME: Thankful