‘Her impact will be felt for generations to come.’ Philanthropist Barbara Palmer dies at 93

Barbara Palmer — the first female president of the Centre County United Way and a member of the advisory board of the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State — died Monday. She was 93.
Barbara Palmer — the first female president of the Centre County United Way and a member of the advisory board of the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State — died Monday. She was 93. Centre Daily Times, file

As a longtime philanthropist, Barbara Palmer’s contributions are visible across Centre County, most notably with Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art. But Palmer, who died Sunday at 93, leaves a legacy that’s more than just a name, those who knew her said Monday.

“Barbara Palmer gave more than just her resources, time and vision to improving our community,” Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe wrote in an email. “She empowered individuals to be authentic, to express their truths and to compel us to live life to the fullest measure. Her impact will be felt for generations to come.”

Palmer was also a member of the Advisory Board of the Palmer Museum and the first female president of the Centre County United Way.

“She was an incredible visionary. Compassionate, supportive and a beautiful woman who invested in the beauty around her,” Centre County United Way Executive Director Tammy Gentzel said. “Very warm. Kind. She was just an incredible woman and I enjoyed every minute I had with her.”

Palmer, a Baltimore native, moved to State College in 1953. She and her husband, James, met at Iowa State University — where she graduated from in 1946 — and married in 1948, according to her obituary.

James was the president and CEO of C-Cor Electronics and Centre Video — now Comcast — for 25 years, while Barbara served on the company’s board of directors.

The two donated some of the company’s stock in 1986 to renovate and expand Penn State University’s art museum, which was renamed in their honor.

Museum Director Erin Coe said Palmer’s contributions are “unsurpassed,” while assistant director Joyce Robinson said Palmer and her husband had a “keen eye” and “generous spirit.”

“Her legacy extends beyond the museum walls through the steadfast support and encouragement she continually demonstrated to this institution. Moreover, as a founding member of the Palmer Advisory Board she offered wisdom and counsel that informed our present and future direction,” Coe said. “Barbara set a high example of philanthropy and personal engagement that in turn inspired our entire community. She will be greatly missed and we will cherish her always.”

State College Mayor Don Hahn wrote in an email that Palmer would be “sorely missed,” but her role in the museum’s expansion earned her a place in the Penn State pantheon.

“Her legacy must also include her generosity of spirit and the inspiration that she provided to the local art community,” Hahn wrote. “She was truly one of State College’s muses, and one of its graces.”

Mimi Barash Coppersmith — co-founder of The Barash Group, founder of the Town & Gown magazine and former member of the Penn State Board of Trustees — said she and Barbara were “as close as you can get and still not be sisters.”

“We were always there for one another. Among the things that seal friendship forever are the things we do for one another,” Coppersmith said. “We did things with and for one another. She often said we were chosen family.”

Coppersmith said their bond, which began in 1956 when Coppersmith moved into a new home on Homan Avenue in State College across from the Palmers, gave her someone she could always talk to about anything.

“She was the ultimate of a giving soul — both materially and personally.” Coppersmith said. “She was an unmatched individual with a big, great heart. And she tried to do the right thing 24 hours a day.”

Palmer and her husband were also the namesakes of the James and Barbara Palmer Fund at the Centre Foundation.

Contributions can be made to the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State. A memorial service is scheduled for the spring.

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.