The Obedient Builder

by Cynndie Hoff

Covered in chalky white plaster baked on by the relentless Southern California sun, Gene Piester smiled. He loved his job. Fresh out of high school, and eager to join his father and brother in the family’s contractor business, he relished the physical labor, camaraderie, and blessing of employment. For most 18-year-olds in 1940, life held few certainties. But Piester had faith—in his father, who modeled how to work and live with integrity, in his country, which inspired pride and loyalty, and in his Lord, who constantly reminded him that He was in control. That faith came into play like never before when Pearl Harbor fell under attack.

Though seven days younger than the draft age, he obeyed his heart and enlisted. Those long hours helping dad on the job and countless more spent under the hood of their dad’s Model T Ford truck made Piester a valuable military asset. The Army Air Corps (now Air Force) fast-tracked him as a crew chief working on combat fighter planes. When word of the war’s end finally reached him in a remote jungle, he truly understood the kind of bravery and perseverance real obedience takes.

It hit home again when he resumed the business and life he left behind three years prior. With their father retired, he and his brother revived the contracting company that had waned during the war. Known for their honest practices and high-quality work, the Piester brothers built a reputation for excellence. “After 17 years of backbreaking work, we knew we needed to change directions,” he said. So Gene and older brother Charles enrolled in night classes to earn their real estate licenses. Once again, the Piesters’ entrepreneurial spirit turned a fledgling endeavor into a formidable success by keeping integrity the center of their business. Attraction to that attribute led to a fondness for the graduates Azusa Pacific University produces.

Piester, his wife of 54 years, Maxine, and Charles date their affiliation with APU back to the 1960s, when they helped build a two-story dormitory for Arlington College, one of the schools that merged to create APU. “Gene’s obedience to God through his generosity humbles and impresses me,” said David Bixby, Ed.D., executive vice president. “Over the years, Gene and Charles have given APU partial interests in some of their properties and a $2 million property through a charitable annuity trust. Most recently, Gene gave a $348,000 property through a charitable unitrust and set up a testamentary unitrust to benefit his children and grandchildren —an act of love that will relieve his heirs of management responsibilities while providing a steady income stream. At the end of the term, the remaining balance will be used to fund the Gene and Maxine Piester Endowed Scholarship Fund, providing scholarships to deserving students for many years.”

“I am so happy to be able to provide for my children and grandchildren and do the Lord’s work with the help of APU. It doesn’t feel like giving; it’s just the right thing to do, the obedient thing to do. The future of our country is tied to education, and APU graduates the finest people I’ve seen. I’m investing in that mission and depending on APU to mold students into honest people who will go out into the world and stand out as trustworthy, intelligent, hard workers,” said Piester, who, at age 90, still shows up for work at 8 a.m. every day—ever the obedient Kingdom builder.

Cynndie Hoff is a freelance writer living in Walnut, California.