We celebrate the life of Shirley A. Pechter, loving wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, who peacefully passed away on Friday. A noted philanthropist and lifelong resident of Altoona, Shirley was in her 103rd year.
Shirley was the glue of our family, fiercely loyal and proud, prioritizing her relationships with her many extended relatives, and always there to provide support for those in need. A gifted musician, her early years as a concert pianist instilled in her an appreciation of education and the arts, the foundation on which she built her role as a leader of the Altoona community.
A multi-faceted woman who was ahead of her time, Shirley was devoted to numerous causes and was admired for her ability to galvanize others into action, for bravely voicing her opinions and for generously contributing to the many charities close to her heart.
Born on Oct. 28, 1920, Shirley was the daughter of Meyer and Fannie (Silberstein) Abelson. She graduated from Hollidaysburg High School in 1938, where she was the valedictorian, and attended Goucher College and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Md.
Shirley was a college student and home for Thanksgiving when she met Fred A. Pechter after setting him up with her roommate. Fred was more interested in Shirley, however, and the pair married in 1940, enjoying a loving, 54-year marriage until his death in 1994.
Their youngest daughter, Melissa, was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor at age nine, and Shirley became active in the American Cancer Society, serving as a board member and three-time president of the Blair County American Cancer Society. She was a recipient of the American Cancer Society Outstanding Volunteer Award and, in 2005, received the chapter’s inaugural Pinnacle Award, which was named in her honor.
She was deeply committed to Penn State and, in 2004, helped fund a multipurpose music room, Pechter Studio, at Penn State Altoona’s Hawthorn Building. In 1999, she established the Fred A. Pechter Endowed Scholarship at Penn State Altoona in honor of her late husband, Class of ’33, to assist students in the engineering program. In 2004, Shirley was inducted into the Platinum Category of the Penn State Altoona’s Ivyside Society.
Shirley served on numerous other boards, including the Bon Secours Holy Family Hospital, the Southern Allegheny Museum of Art, the Altoona Symphony Orchestra and the Home Nursing Agency, where she helped found the Healing Patch Children’s Grief Program, which provides grieving families with free access to support. She also served on the board of Temple Beth Israel, where in 1970, she became the first female president in the temple’s 125-year history and only the fifth female president for a reform temple in the United States.
Among her many awards are the Blair County Philanthropy Award; the YWCA Tribute to Women Award for Community Service; the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Allegheny Mountains Chapter for Outstanding Individual/Family Philanthropy; Hollidaysburg High School Distinguished Alumni Award; Pennsylvania Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations Scroll of Honor; Penn State Altoona Honorary Alumna Award; Penn State University Honorary Alumna Award; and University of St. Francis Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Shirley was Chairman Emeritus of Altoona Pipe and Steel Supply Company, founded by her grandfather Abe Abelson in 1885. She is survived by her daughters, Donna and Joanne; her son, Richard; sons-in-law, Philip and Richard; and daughter-in-law, Kayla; nine grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.
Friends will be received from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at E. Merrill Smith Funeral Home Inc., 2309 Broad Ave., Altoona. A private family graveside service will be held at the convenience of the family.
In lieu of flowers, donations should be directed to the Healing Patch at homenursingagency.com/services/childrens-services/healing-patch.
Condolences may be made at stevensfamilyfuneralhomes.com or the Stevens Family Funeral Homes Facebook page.