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A Labor of Love: An Interview with Mimi Barash

The billboards along 322 approaching State College, Town and Gown magazine publisher, PSU trustee, real estate developer, community legend. While few current students may know Mimi Barash, she has had a hand in shaping PSU and State College. An advocate for students and the underdog, she is not afraid to call out perceived wrongs, or highlight achievements. On the day of her interview with Onward State Publisher Davis Shaver and this author, she wore a pin on both lapels of her blouse–a Nittany Lion and pink breast cancer awareness pin.

Barash created her “third child”, Town and Gown magazine, in 1960, giving a voice for her prolific opinions. A labor of love, it almost went bankrupt, never made a great profit yet was an important bridge in the community. It had developed a such a positive reputation, that when she sold it in 2008, she sold her naming rights to Barash Media.

Elected in 1976 to the PSU Board of Trustees, and being only the third woman, she sought to increase access to under-served populations. In her 21 years on the board, she tackled issues that at the time were momentous, such as restricting University investment in South Africa during the apartheid era, equitable benefits for life partners of gays and lesbians, improving the status of women and formulating a comprehensive non-discrimination policy. Asking “what the hell do they know?,” she highlighted the importance of the BOT in staying out of day-to-day management.

Having been on the committee that selected current President Graham Spanier,  she reflected quite positively on his achievements during his tenure, including creating and fostering world-renowned programs, such as musical theater. “Broad in his talents,” Spanier created what we know now as the College of Information Sciences and Technology, and fully incorporated the Dickinson School of Law into University Park.

Perennial issues plague student-community relations, with the absence of students welcoming in the summer, thus making State College a “calmer and sweeter town”, enjoying the respite from having to clean vomitus from her property. Deploring the incidences of binge drinking, and waxing about the effects of taking 21 shots, the problem has become significantly worse in the past twenty years. Nonetheless, the university has an interest in maintaining a bilateral community relations, as evidenced by the underwriting of various events, including ArtsFest. Contrary to some perceptions, the community does care about the students, and shows it through inter alia, philanthropy; she was proud to donate to the first THON in 1973. On a related note, she was guarded about prospects for future growth in the Centre Region, due to the concentration of real estate amongst a few families. “Young people with vision and a lot of money” is the only potential for economic diversification and growth.

She has epitomized her mantra of balance in life, advancing in a time when women were institutionally and culturally restrained. Needing to cogitate over and share her experiences with the future, she wants to enlighten current and prospective students and residents about a time that once was. Lunch with Mimi: An Ancedotal History of State College and Penn State, 1950 – 2010 is her latest project. She interviewed notable people and is publishing a book, due out in 2012. With all the experiences that Barash has had in the area, it’s sure to be an interesting read.

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