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Longtime Penn State Philanthropist Bill Jaffe Dies At 83

Bill Jaffe, a Penn State graduate and a longtime university philanthropist, died last week. He was 83 years old.

Jaffee graduated from Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications in 1960. He later went on to found his own consulting firm and become one of Penn State’s most prolific donors, often offering philanthropic support to Penn State Athletics, the Belisario College, and the College of Arts and Architecture.

“Bill’s insatiable curiosity and passion for helping others manifested itself across the University at many different levels,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement. “He and Honey provided visionary leadership that has made Penn State more affordable and accessible, more culturally vibrant and better equipped to support student artists and athletes. We’re fortunate that this extraordinary legacy will go on to inspire and enrich our community for many years into the future.”

Hailing from Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, Jaffe grew up in a Penn State family after his father graduated from the College of Engineering in 1922. Later on, Jaffe’s two children and cousin also obtained degrees from the university.

Jaffe’s first gift to the university came through a $5 donation in 1961. Over the years that followed, Jaffe and his family helped establish nearly 20 scholarships and endowments to support student success. Other created endowments helped to support Penn State women’s volleyball, jazz and musical theatre, internships, WPSU Radio, and the Penn State Blue Band, among other causes.

In late 2019, Jaffe donated $250,000 to support the construction of Penn State’s new Palmer Museum of Art. A longtime supporter of the arts, Jaffe was scheduled to be honored at a gala and auction benefiting the art museum in late May. There, he would have received the Palmer Philanthropic Service award for his commitment to engaging with the museum.

As his support for the university continued, Jaffe received recognition from across the university. The Penn State Alumni Association named him an Alumni Fellow — the highest honor presented by the organization — in 1996. The Alumni Association also named Jaffe its Volunteer of the Year in 2000.

Additionally, Jaffe received Penn State’s Lion’s Paw medal in 2007 and was appointed President’s Club Chair in 2008. In 2013, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award — the highest honor Penn State bestows upon outstanding alumni.

Jaffe and his wife, Honey, were named the Penn State 2011 Fundraising Volunteers of the Year for their service to benefit the university. The two were married for more than 50 years until Honey’s death in 2017.

Jaffe kept active with his alma mater and volunteered within the Bellisario College’s alumni society, the Penn State All-Sports Museum, and Penn State Hillel, among other organizations.

“Penn State meant the world to my father,” said Robin Jaffe Goebel, Jaffe’s daughter. “He was always stepping forward to mentor students, spearhead fundraising efforts, cheer on a team or sponsor the performing and fine arts. He used to say that he gave to Penn State and Penn State gave back to him, and that bond of trust meant everything to him, as it always will to my family.”

Outside of Penn State, Jaffe remained an involved volunteer. He held leadership or board positions with a handful of organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, the Mount Nittany Conservancy, West Virginia’s Arts Council, and his local Jewish community center.

“Bill brought Herculean energy and generosity to every project he was involved in, but the truly remarkable thing about him was that, without fail, he inspired those around him to roll up their sleeves and join the cause,” said O. Richard Bundy III, Penn State vice president for development and alumni relations. “His enthusiasm was an engine of inspiration, and it galvanized Penn Staters to strive after their best selves and have fun while doing it.”

As a student, Jaffe served as the Daily Collegian’s managing editor and the president of Sigma Delta Chi, the national journalism honor society. He also joined societies like Lion’s Paw and Skull & Bones.

Jaffe is survived by his two children, Matthew and Robin; his cousin, Simon Ziff; his sister, Elaine Altshuler; and his recent partner, Jane Zimmerman.

Jaffe’s family will host a visitation from 10 to 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 14, at State College’s Congregation Brit Shalom. He’ll be buried in Centre County Memorial Park on Benner Pike.

Memorial contributions can be directed toward the several endowments Jaffe established with his late wife.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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