Penn State mourns passing of philanthropist and arts patron Barbara Palmer

January 21, 2019

Barbara Palmer, whose lifetime of philanthropy is evident across Penn State and the Centre region, died peacefully on Sunday, Jan. 20. She was 93. Recognized by the University as an honorary alumna in 1987, Palmer was deeply engaged as a donor and a volunteer at the institution and in many organizations throughout the region.

“Barbara Palmer may not have graduated from Penn State, but she embodied the very best of what it means to be a Penn Stater,” said President Eric J. Barron. “She believed that our University had a responsibility to serve the people of Pennsylvania through creating access to education and the arts. From the citizens who visit the Palmer Museum of Art to the students who benefit from the scholarships she and her late husband, James, created, Barbara’s generosity and spirit will continue to touch thousands of lives, and her vision will continue to guide us far into the future.”

Barbara R. Palmer

Barbara R. Palmer.

IMAGE: Penn State

Although not graduates of Penn State, Barbara and James Palmer made the University their home, giving generously to areas ranging from the colleges of Engineering and Communications to Outreach and the University Libraries. Their philanthropy is perhaps the most visible in the College of Arts and Architecture, where they supported, among other areas, student scholarships, the Center for the Performing Arts, Penn State Centre Stage, Penn’s Woods Music Festival and, most notably, their namesake Palmer Museum of Art. The Palmers’ private collection of American art will be gifted to the museum, complementing the numerous works of art that they gifted over several decades.

“Barbara Palmer was among the most courageous, wise and generous people many of us have known, and her capacity for caring and giving to foster future generations and enrich the lives of others is unsurpassed,” said Barbara Korner, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture. “She cherished a quote used in a public tribute to her some time ago that captures her sense of humor and generous spirit. In ‘Hello, Dolly,’ the title character states, ‘Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing, unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow!’ Thousands of young things grow in all parts of this country because of Barbara’s generosity to scholarships, programs and cultural institutions.”

Palmer was a founding member of the Palmer Museum of Art Advisory Board, and a 1986 gift from Barbara and James launched the campaign that led to the creation of the current museum on the University Park campus. “Until her death, Barbara Palmer offered wisdom and counsel that will continue to inform the museum’s future,” said Erin Coe, museum director. “Her generous and caring spirit animated every area of the museum, from her passion for American art that informed the remarkable collection she and James assembled, to the construction of this outstanding facility that bears their name. Barbara set a high example of philanthropy and personal engagement that in turn inspired our entire community.” 

Barbara Raeder, a Baltimore native, met James Palmer at Iowa State University. She graduated in 1946, and the Palmers married in 1948. They moved to State College in 1953. 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.

Because of their involvement in the telecommunications industry, the Palmers created an endowed chair for Penn State’s program in the field. Over the years, they invested in programs as diverse as the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, Penn State Public Broadcasting, and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and their gifts to scholarships, particularly those created through the Renaissance Fund, have assisted hundreds of students. Palmer was a leader in every major University-wide fundraising effort, and she served as chair of the Women in Philanthropy committee during the “Grand Destiny” campaign.

Palmer was also a leader in the community. The first female president of the Centre County United Way, she supported numerous organizations, including the Girl Scouts, Mount Nittany Medical Center, the State Theatre and many others. This commitment to both Penn State and Centre County led to her recognition as the Renaissance Fund honoree of the year in 1984. 

A memorial service is planned for the spring.

Last Updated January 22, 2019