How a local judge and a small group of community-minded leaders paved the way

R. Paul Campbell served Centre County as a judge for 20 years but always knew what he wanted to do when he retired. 

Though he was ethically bound from fundraising or advocating for community organizations while serving on the bench, he laid out detailed plans for what would become Centre County’s community foundation and worked to make sure the county’s power players were on the board with the idea when it was time to spring into action.

That effort launched in earnest after Campbell retired in 1977 and the Centre County Community Foundation, now Centre Foundation, officially opened its doors in 1981. Campbell’s son Richard “Dick” Campbell said his father’s experience as an attorney proved useful in more ways than one during the organization’s formative years. 

“He filed the articles of incorporation and got everything organized,” Dick Campbell said. “While he was doing that, he would meet with people and do financial and estate planning. One of his clients donated her entire estate of around $700,000.” 

Paul Campbell was very intentional about the composition of the foundation’s board. He wanted to ensure that professionals from throughout the county were represented and gave groups like the bar association and the medical association the ability to appoint members. 

“It was pretty fascinating how he came up with it,” Dick Campbell said. “His goal was to get the money into the foundation and then parcel it out to charitable organizations.” 

Dick Campbell said his father also used the connections he’d made with community groups from years of serving as a speaker at dinners and other functions. Paul Campbell was known for his inspiring speeches that always included at least a few jokes pulled from a file he kept in his office. 

The same inspiring spirit that was evident in his speeches would prove helpful in getting the community on board with his vision for the foundation. 

“He was an amazing speaker,” Dick Campbell said. “He picked you up and made you feel like you would conquer the world.”

Building Trust for a Bold Vision

Mimi Barash Coppersmith was one of the foundation’s initial board members and continues to be one of its most ardent supporters. A self-described “person who loves to raise money,” she utilized her connections with the county’s nonprofit community to make the case that the new foundation was a worthwhile investment. 

“Paul Campbell and the entire board did a good job of getting leadership in the community to come with us on the journey to make this happen,” Coppersmith said. “It seems like old hat today, but it was a big deal in little State College 40 years ago.” 

Coppersmith said the community’s larger nonprofits like the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and the Centre County United Way quickly came on board with the idea. The board also worked to cultivate gifts of $25,000 or more to establish funds that could have an immediate impact. 

“Individuals could be inspired to establish a fund and not wait for their wills to do something for the benefit of the community,” Coppersmith said. “A number of community members took us up on that.”

Henry and Seda Sahakian took the original board up on its offer by establishing the Henry D. Sahakian Family Fund. They proceeded to grow the fund with annual contributions. Today, the fund continues to support the family’s passion for organizations that care for children and people with disabilities and work to meet basic needs like food, housing, and clothing.

Henry Sahakian went on to serve as chair of Centre Foundation’s board. He and Seda received the foundation’s Oak Tree Award in 2010 for their leadership through a period of significant growth in the foundation’s history and for the many years of generosity that they shared with the community. 

Henry passed away in February 2021, but his son Fred said his philanthropic legacy would live on for years to come.

“My father was a humble man. He never wanted any accolades or recognitions. Those things were not so special to him,” Fred told “I guess his legacy will remain in the hearts and minds of the people he touched. Nothing made my father more proud than helping others that were in pursuit of their American Dream.”

So what would Paul Campbell think about the foundation’s success today?

“He would be elated,” Dick Campbell said. “This is probably beyond his wildest expectations. The foundation’s staff has done a good job of reaching out to people and making people feel really good about making contributions.”

Looking Forward: 40 Years of Community Impact

It’s clear that Paul Campbell, Mimi Barash Coppersmith, Henry Sahakian, and the foundation’s many other early supporters had a vision for long-term success and the foresight to lay the groundwork to make that vision a reality over the next four decades. The rest of the magazine will share the stories of those who picked up the baton and continue to carry it today. Read the full magazine here!

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