A Community Treasure: Shirley Pechter - Spring 2004 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Spring 2004

A Community Treasure

Shirley Pechter


Shirley Pechter has dedicated the greater part of her 83 spirited years to making life better for residents in her home area. Through volunteer service and countless acts of philanthropy, her presence can be felt throughout Blair County. The recipient of the local YWCA's Tribute to Women Award for Community Service in 2002, Pechter always is ready to assist where there is need. Such a need recently surfaced at Penn State Altoona and Pechter didn't hesitate in responding.

Designs for the College's new classroom building envisioned a multi-purpose music studio that would be accessible to students for practice and rehearsals outside of class. With the College's growing integrative arts program, the need for such space has never been greater. Pechter, a trained classical pianist and lifelong patron of the arts, pledged generous financial support for the project, humbly accepting the naming opportunity for the studio.

"I was pleased to be able to do this," stated Pechter, who recalled her own difficulties in finding suitable places to rehearse while attending Goucher College in Maryland and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. "Once Penn State Altoona became a four-year college, I felt that we should have everything here that is relevant to the arts."

Remembering Loved Ones

For Pechter, philanthropy has been inspired by personal experiences and relationships. The mother of four, Pechter began an association with the American Cancer Society in 1965 as her 10-year-old daughter, Melissa, fought a courageous battle against a fatal brain tumor. Her commitment to fighting this deadly disease inspired her to serve as President of the American Cancer Society for three terms. She was the driving force behind bringing the successful Relay for Life event to our community. The Cancer Society's Jail-a-Thon, Rubber Duckie Derby, Daffodil Days, auction, and golf tournament all are Pechter inspirations.

"Shirley Pechter has that unique ability to bring people together to act and achieve in any organization or project in which she is involved," stated C. David Kimmel '62, regional manager, American Cancer Society, Central Region. "Her leadership, genuine friendship and dedication to the mission of the American Cancer Society has provided immeasurable benefit to thousands of individuals in times of need and support. The quality of life in our community is far better because of Shirley Pechter." Pechter's dedication to Penn State and Penn State Altoona has remained steadfast since her marriage to late husband, Fred, a 1933 University graduate and loyal alumnus until his passing in 1994.

The children and grandchildren of Fred Pechter honored the family patriarch on his 80th birthday in 1991 by creating an endowed scholarship in Penn State's College of Engineering. In 1999, Shirley Pechter established, in loving memory, the "Fred A. Pechter Endowed Scholarship" at Penn State Altoona to assist students in the engineering curriculum. As a member of Penn State steering committees in New York City and Altoona during the recent Grand Destiny Campaign, Pechter offered distinguished leadership throughout the seven-year fundraising effort that raised an unprecedented $1.37 billion in private support for the University. Thinking "outside the box," Pechter once hosted a luncheon for alumni and friends of Penn State at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in Manhattan. Most recently, she volunteered to co-chair Penn State Altoona's 65th anniversary celebration.

Making Her Mark

Pechter's impact on the multitude of community boards on which she has served is exemplified by her tenure on the board of Temple Beth Israel. In 1999, Pechter was selected as the first female president in the Temple's 125-year history and only the fifth for a reform temple in the United States.

"Not only is Shirley Pechter a civic and philanthropic leader of the highest order, she is a true renaissance person with a protean interest in a wide range of cultural, artistic, social, medical and religious issues," stated Rabbi Burt Schuman. "For me personally, she has been an incredible source of strength and support, a true friend and confidante and the 'surrogate mother' of Temple Beth Israel."

Describing her work as a community volunteer and philanthropist as "invigorating" and "fulfilling," Pechter states:

"I enjoy being involved in the community. I love people. I thank God for every day that I'm able to be involved. What you give comes back. If your heart says, 'This is something I should do,' then do it."

While many individuals are unable to be as philanthropic as they may like due to life's circumstances, Pechter said that should not temper one's passion for community activism.

"Time and effort are every bit as important—and maybe even more so—and people forget that," she emphasized.