Headshot of Ross Deardorff, a man in a gray sweater and Purdue hat. Graphic elements display his name.
Monday, October 9, 2023

Ross Deardorff knows about the immense opportunities for graduates with pharmacy degrees. He also intimately understands the commitment it requires for students to pursue this path.

That’s why the Purdue College of Pharmacy alumnus (B.S. ’56) and his brothers decided to establish the Deardorff Family Scholarship—to help students make their dreams come true.

Ross grew up in Richmond, Ind., alongside three brothers and a sister. Three of the Deardorff brothers—Ross, Richard, and Frank—all pursued pharmacy degrees from Purdue. Each used his degree in a different way: Richard in retail pharmacy, Frank in pharmaceutical sales, and Ross in manufacturing. Seeing these boundless opportunities first-hand, the brothers wondered how they could give back to future generations.

“Several years ago, my brothers and I really wanted to help students out,” Ross said. “The Purdue School of Pharmacy gave us the knowledge we needed to work in the field we wanted and provide for our families, and for our employees’ families. We know that students today have many opportunities in this field, and we wanted to be able to help them make their dreams possible as well.”

After graduating from Purdue in 1956, Ross married his wife, Carol—a 64-year marriage that endured until her passing in 2020. Ten years after they said, “I do,” and after a stint in Texas while Ross served in the U.S. Air Force, the Deardorffs had returned to Indiana and decided to start their own pharmaceutical manufacturing business. Century Pharmaceuticals was founded in 1966 out of a small building behind their garage.

Much to the chagrin of his in-laws, Ross quit his full-time job to see if he and Carol could make the company successful. With three children ages 6 and under, it was a risky move, but the leap of faith eventually paid off.

“We started by printing our own labels on a printing press, driving to Cincinnati to pick up bottles in our station wagon with a small trailer behind us, and buying used packaging equipment at auctions,” he said. “I called on doctors and hospital pharmacies in the Indianapolis area to begin with.”

Fast-forward 57 years, and Century has now manufactured more than 300 different types of products sold wholesale and direct throughout the United States and abroad.

While Carol ran the business end, Ross worked in the lab, made the medicine, and kept the equipment running.

“We were a great team,” he said. “There are too many challenges and sacrifices to mention when you own your own small business, and we overcame each one of them together, as a couple and as a family.”

One of Century’s best-known products is Dakin’s Solution®, a wound cleanser developed on the battlefield in World War I that destroys bacteria, including MRSA, without damaging the skin. The problem with early iterations of the solution was that it was only stable for two days.

That’s where Ross came in.

He perfected a formulation of Dakin’s that was stable for two years—a total game-changer in the world of wound care. The solution’s various forms and formulations are Century’s hallmark product line still today.

But prior to Dakin’s, his military service, or even marrying Carol, Ross’s journey to a pharmacy degree was inspired by his eldest brother Richard.

“My brother was 17 years older than me. I was able to work at his retail store as a teenager and I liked it,” Ross said. “After I graduated from high school, it was about two weeks until the fall semester started, and I decided I wanted to be a pharmacist too. We drove up to Purdue and signed me up for classes.”

Two weeks later, Ross was on campus starting his studies.

While the application process is slightly lengthier these days, one of the things that hasn’t changed about a Purdue College of Pharmacy education is the lifelong friendships and memories students create along the way.

In fact, Ross cites an ongoing 66-year friendship with one of his college cohorts, and talks fondly about his close-knit college friend group.

“We studied together and pulled pranks on each other a lot. One of my friends had a bullet still in his knee from a previous hunting accident, so we always used him as the guinea pig for us practicing with x-rays,” Ross cheekily recalled.

It’s these opportunities, memories, and relationships Ross hopes his family’s scholarship will help provide for the current generation of up-and-coming pharmacists.

“Now that I am 90 years old, I have time to look back on life and realize the opportunities I have been afforded in life, and much of them began from my education at Purdue,” he said. “I took that education and used it as a springboard for the choices I made along the years of running my business.”

As for Century Pharmaceuticals, it continues to be a family affair to this day. Ross and Carol’s son Steve has worked for the company for more than 30 years, their daughter Lisa for seven. Three grandchildren have now joined the family business too.

“Three generations working a family business is a lot to be proud of.”

Ross is also proud of his family’s Purdue legacy. His parents attended Purdue in the early 1920s. Over four generations, the Deardorff family has had 19 members attend Purdue. And now, because of their generosity, even more students will have the opportunity to pursue a Purdue College of Pharmacy degree.

You can join the Deardorff Family in providing opportunities for the next generation of pharmacists by supporting the Purdue College of Pharmacy.