Forrest "Woody" Pack Sr. was a 16-year-old farm boy, and valedictorian of Hamlin High School in Hamlin, West Virginia, when he made a decision wise beyond his years: He took the savings he’d made from a summer job, handing out cereal samples door to door, and headed to Cincinnati to earn a college degree.
Over time, this very young man’s insight, determination and work ethic led to three generations of pharmacists, and a large, extended family of Cincinnati Bearcats.
Pack, now 95, who is still a practicing pharmacist and patriarch of Pack Pharmacy in O’Bryonville, says that in 1939 he didn’t deliberate much on a field of study when he chose to enroll in what was then called the Cincinnati College of Pharmacy. (From 1850 to 1949 the college was independently operated. It became a part of UC in September 1954 and was named the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy in 2007.)
"It was the only place that I could afford to go to school. I paid my tuition by the week, exactly five dollars a week,” which he earned by interning at local pharmacies working for 25 cents an hour, he recalls.
However, two years into his studies, and a month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Pack received his draft notice from the U.S. Army. He served honorably until 1946 and then returned to Cincinnati to complete his remaining two years of pharmacy training. He married Mary June Schwartz in 1947 and graduated from pharmacy school in 1948.
"Back then every student was expected to open his own pharmacy after graduation because the goal was not only to become a pharmacist but to be one at your own pharmacy,” says Pack, who with his new bride purchased property at 2114 Madison Rd. and opened Pack Pharmacy. The couple also started a family, of Bearcats¬—Amelia (A&S ’80), Forrest (Pharm ’75), and John (A&S ’70, Pharm’ 77)—and a legacy built on long hours and hard work.
"He practically lives at the pharmacy,” says Amelia, who became Pack Pharmacy’s business manager. He arrives at 7 a.m. every morning and stays well after 8 p.m. "It was only a few years ago that we started closing on Christmas Day!” she says with a laugh.
Of course, when you have been in business for 68 years a lot of things change. The building itself underwent a complete renovation in the 1970s, which is the retail site one sees today. But it’s the profession, Pack says, that is unrecognizable from when he started: The notebook of Ohio pharmacy laws that once fit in his pocket is now the size of an encyclopedia. Back in the day, so to speak, he says prescription bottles didn’t have the ingredients listed on them, just the doctor’s name and the instructions and there were no pervasive addiction problems like there are today.
The biggest change he says he sees is in business operations: "We very seldom talk to the doctors anymore and the insurance companies have upended the profession, taking much of the control of the practice of medicine out of the hands of doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals and causing a massive increase in the cost of medical care,” he laments.
But, owning an independent pharmacy, he says, has afforded him a nice life, and he’s maintained a steady clientele by going above and beyond for his customers.
"We really get to know the people who come here. I’m a big Reds fan and I had a guy the other day who said, ‘Why should I go somewhere that the pharmacist doesn’t know a thing about baseball?’”
Pack is also a big Bearcats fan. Not only did all three of his children graduate from UC, but all five of his granddaughters did as well: Julie Cromwell (CEAS ’01), Jean Brugger, PharmD (Pharm ’03), Karen Schmitt (CAHS ’04), Katie Dobbs (DAAP ’04), and Susan Morgan (DAAP ’08).
"My grandpa has the strongest work ethic of any individual I have ever met,” says Cromwell, citing the numerous awards and honors he’s accumulated over the years: Founding member of the former Ohio Independent Pharmacists Association in 1988; president of the Ohio State Pharmaceutical Association, now called Ohio Pharmacist Association (OPA), in 1985; recipient of the OPA’s Keys Award in 1981; recipient of the National Association of Retail Druggist (NARD), now called the National Community Pharmacists Association ( NCPA), Pharmacy Leadership Award in 1985; recipient of the OSPA Beal Award in 1987; and most personally significant to him, the NARD John Dargavel Medal in 1993.
Not surprisingly, in 1998 the college bestowed Pack with Arthur C. Glasser Distinguished Alumni Award.
"He is passionate about his career and helping the community,” Cromwell adds. "He truly gets to know his customers and their families and cares for them with empathy and compassion.”
Employees at Pack Pharmacy are also family and extended family. In addition to Amelia, his late daughter-in-law MaryAnn (Pharm, ’77), and both sons have worked there, while his son John still does part-time and granddaughter Jean Brugger works there full-time. Although not related, Michelle Becker, (Pharm ’87) has worked there since she was in high school and John Marx, (Pharm, ’62) is a part-time pharmacist. Pack Pharmacy has also hosted scores of interns and pharmacists since its inception.
"You can’t do it all by yourself,” says the patriarch. "It takes dedication by both employees and family to care for and build trust in your patients. It has to be a family and friendship commitment.”