Greg Merfeld passed away in January at the age of 51 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. But before he died, the Agoura Hills dad wanted to leave behind a lasting legacy.
Diagnosed at the age of 49, he suffered from a rare form of the disease called familial ALS, which typically runs in families. In an interview with the Ventura County Star last fall, Merfeld said, “My children have a 50 percent chance of getting the disease.”
In addition, Merfeld has over 20 relatives with the genetic disease.
After diagnosis, the typical life span of ALS patients is two to five years. The deadly disease paralyzes patients who eventually succumb to complications. No cure has been found, although research is ongoing.
Even with the prospect of a short lifespan, Merfeld started thinking long term. Early this year, he started working with the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF) and set up a scholarship fund for college students whose children have been diagnosed with ALS.
The first recipients of the Merfeld Family Scholarship Fund will be notified this coming May. The awards are $2,500 each and will go to at least four students. Special consideration has been given to residents of Southern California and Iowa, where Merfeld used to live.
“I believe it’s the first or one of the first in the country to provide support to families dealing with ALS,” said Hugh Ralston, VCCF president and CEO.
Merfeld had set an original fundraising target of $100,000, turning to friends and family for help. When that goal was met quickly, he set a new goal of $250,000, which was also achieved in a short amount of time.
“He raised enough money to support the fund annually,” said Ralston.
Andrea Gallagher, a family friend, remembers Merfeld as a business-savvy person. “He was a keen negotiator and a good salesperson,” said Gallagher, who also hired and worked with Merfeld twice.
Gallagher was not surprised to find out that Merfeld set up the scholarship fund. “He’s very practical and a planner,” she said. “He wanted to use his illness for good.”
At home, he was the same. “He made sure things were in order in all aspects of his life before his passing. That was just how Greg was,” said Gallagher.
At VCCF, Ralston is beyond pleased that they have been chosen to be stewards of his legacy. “He took this opportunity to take what is a naturally sad situation, to extend his memory,” said Ralston.
Merfeld passed away on January 22, surrounded by his wife Sheri and their two teenage children.