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A Giving Soul

Note: This is the fifth profile in a series of 90 stories highlighting individuals who have shaped Notre Dame and/or live the College’s mission of personal, professional and global responsibility.

By Christian Taske ’07

For decades, long before cancer took her life, and even after her passing, Barbara Herzog Patterson ’56 was a giver. She gave five percent of her monthly income to causes she felt close to as a woman, and she left 10 percent of her estate to her alma mater after she died from pancreatic cancer in 2006. “It’s the deep societal needs that hit me the most, the things that will make life better,” Patterson said in 1993. “[Giving] may be the only way our problems are going to be solved.”

The mother of six was a firm believer that philanthropy brought good fortunes her way. She said her chronic leukemia remained non-aggressive for many years because of her mental well-being, which was a result of her practice of giving, according to Patterson. “It’s because I’m so positive,” she would explain.   

But giving was more than a personal choice for the Notre Dame College graduate, trustee and Fidelia Award recipient. Giving was her career – a career that made her a recognizable figure in Northeast Ohio’s philanthropic community.

“Her approach to life was mildly skeptical, quietly humorous, and overwhelmingly human,” Kitty Phelan ’54 wrote after Patterson’s passing. “She just threw her whole self into everything she did to make the world better,” Sr. Mary Ann Baran ’72 said.  

Barb Patterson
Barbara Herzog Patterson graduated from NDC in 1956.

A skilled writer and communicator, Patterson graduated from Notre Dame with a bachelor of arts in English. She served as editor of the Notre Dame alumnae publication, “Notre Dame Exchange,” before earning a master’s degree in English from John Carroll University in 1969. Upon graduation, she was hired as an English lecturer at JCU. In 1974, she left John Carroll to teach English at Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, Ohio, and after six years became the chair of the school’s English department.

At the time she was the only woman to chair a department at the all-boys school and only one of five female teachers. In a 1980 article in the Sun Messenger Patterson expressed some regret not having any girls at the school so she could be a role model of a career mother for them, but said, “Perhaps this is important for boys, too, since many of our students don’t see that at home.”   

At Gilmour, Patterson developed an interest in the field of fundraising and in 1981 accepted the position of development director. Soon after, she went on to earn a second master’s degree from JCU, this time in educational administration. In 1985, she became dean of institutional advancement at Gilmour.

As Patterson immersed herself in the field of fundraising, she left Gilmour Academy to serve as executive director of the Women’s City Club. Eighteen months later, in 1988, she was recruited as executive director of the Cleveland Education Fund, which provides funding for professional development of educators in the Cleveland Public Schools. In just three years, Patterson more than tripled the budget of the organization. Her concern was always to provide teachers with the tools necessary to reach young minds.

“Pretend you are a teacher,” she said in a 1991 interview. “You go in a classroom with your kids, and somebody else in the first place has decided what kids are there, what time you go in, what time you are allowed to come out and go to lunch, whether you have to accompany your kids to lunch, when the kids can go to the bathroom, when the bell rings, when you’re allowed to decide to take a day off for professional development. They can’t decide anything – they don’t have business cards, they don’t have telephones, they don’t have anything other professionals have. We feel that every teacher knows what she needs in the classroom to make things right.”  

While running the Cleveland Education Fund, Patterson also operated a small fundraising consulting business on the side. “My mother was my inspiration,” Patterson said about her passion for giving. She said her mom, even though she did not work, “found” money by searching out and cashing in rebate coupons. Her mother’s charity of choice was the Agnes E. Meyer Herzog Foundation for hunger relief.

Patterson herself was passionate about giving to the 9 to 5 organization, which supports women in the workplace; the Women’s Community Foundation for underprivileged women; Emily’s List, which helped to elect female lawmakers; and Templum House for victims of domestic violence.   

She was particularly enthusiastic about women effecting change through philanthropy. “I tell women to consider hunger, justice and peace issues as well as domestic violence causes and education for women,” she said, “because they are those most allied to women’s issues.”

Barbara Patterson (left) received the Fidelia Award in 2006.
Barbara Patterson (left) received the Fidelia Award in 2006.

Through her work, Patterson formed connections in the Greater Cleveland community that led her to serve on committees for a number of non-profit organizations. Among others, she served as a board member for St. Edward High School and Templum House. She was also on the Catholic Social Services advisory committee and served as president of the National Society of Fundraising Executives in Greater Cleveland, which gave her the Fundraiser of the Year Award in 1992.

As an alumna, Patterson remained committed to Notre Dame College. She served on the presidential search committee that brought Dr. Marla Loehr ’60 to Notre Dame in 1988, and she was a member of the board of trustees from 1991 to 2002. During that time, she chaired the committee on student development and was a representative on a presidential task force on multicultural awareness, which was charged with bringing more minority students to campus. It was a task Patterson strongly believed in. “The diversity resulting from multiculturalism is a key factor in educational quality,” she said.

Patterson retired from the board as an honorary member, but then became the College’s gift planning advisor in 2003, assisting alumni and friends of Notre Dame with estate planning. She remained an enthusiastic volunteer and mentor to many NDC students and faculty.

In 2006, she received the Fidelia Award, one of the College’s highest honors, for her commitment to Notre Dame and her philanthropy work in Northeast Ohio. Weakened from her battle with cancer, she had to bring her oxygen tank to the ceremony to help her breathing. In her acceptance speech, she recounted how girls of her generation were not encouraged to seek careers.

Only a month later, on Nov. 9, cancer took her life – the life of a giving soul with a remarkable career in philanthropy.

Christian Taske ’07 is the director of print & digital communications at Notre Dame College.