Foundation Remembers Chara Haas
Publication Date: 8/21/2012
Chara Aurora Cooper Haas
March 21, 1927 – August 15, 2012
Chara Aurora Cooper Haas, whose love of family, community,
nature and music touched all who knew her, died August 15, 2012.
She was 85.
“In addition to her family, our mother loved nature and sharing
life with other people,” according to a statement from her children. “She was emotionally affected by making music
and that spirit carried over into everything she did. She had a passionate feeling about the
Born in Bryn Athyn, PA, one of the seven children of Frederick
J. and Aurora Synnesvedt Cooper, Chara Haas had a modest upbringing. She worked as a domestic at the Glencairn
Estate in Bryn Athyn, and later as a shipping clerk and errand girl at Fred J.
Cooper, the family jewelry store in Philadelphia. Her father died in 1941, and her mother in
1945, when she was 18. Her father, a
watchmaker and native of England, had always wanted his children to visit
Europe. In 1949 Chara fulfilled his
dream and sailed by herself to England on the Queen Elizabeth and back on the Queen
In 1951, she was invited by a family she had worked for to
move to Houston, TX to help care for their children. There she met John C. Haas, who was working
at the Rohm and Haas plant in Houston at the time. The couple was married in Bryn Athyn on June
21, 1952. They lived first in Houston
where their first child Barbara was born, and then in Wyncote, PA. Chara and John raised five children and
eventually moved to Stoneleigh, the Haas family estate in Villanova.
Chara had a deep appreciation for nature, with a particular love
for flowers, and was very “hands on” in the garden. Whether at home or on one of many travels,
Chara enjoyed the outdoors, walking, playing tennis, bird watching and
swimming. She and John shared a special
passion for preserving beautiful natural places in the Philadelphia area, as
well as in the Berkshires where the family spent many summers together.
Chara and John hosted family and friends each May for the
“Stoneleigh Stroll-About.” In a note
welcoming guests to their home, they wrote, “The preservation and development
of the gardens, grounds and house have been an ongoing project of love for
us. We feel privileged to have been
entrusted with the conservation of this historic and beautiful property.”
Chara had a life-long love of music, whether at the
Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA, or
anywhere in the world. She formed a
special bond with the choir at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, with whom she
sang for many years. In 1970, she
demonstrated this love of music by taking her two oldest sons to their first
live music concert, Iron Butterfly at the Electric Factory. The organ in Verizon Hall, where she and John
enjoyed many concerts, was named after her father, who was an amateur organist.
Long-time friend Ann Abbott said family was paramount to
Chara, who was very proud of her children and her husband. She described Chara as a “true friend” who
gave unconditionally to her many friendships.
“Chara attracted people to her with her joy, love and generous
spirit,” Abbott said. “Her humor and
mischievous sense of adventure could turn the simplest events into special
Her warmth and sense of humor was demonstrated when Chara directed
that the trunk of a tree near the road on the Stoneleigh property be carved
into a family of rabbits. The rabbits
have become a landmark in the area, and neighbors and passersby delight in
seeing the rabbit family decorated for holidays and special events.
Chara had always been passionate about helping vulnerable
children and youth become successful, productive adults. This concern was reflected in her personal
philanthropy and in the work of the William Penn Foundation, founded in 1946 by
John’s parents. She served on the board
of the William Penn Foundation with John for 33 years.
Despite being a part of one of Philadelphia’s most well
known families, Chara never forgot her humble beginnings, according to her
nephew, Marvin Clymer, who chronicled her life in “Chara’s Story.”
“She cared a lot about people and didn't forget her roots,”
he said. “She was there for people who
needed help. She used to say, ‘The purpose of having money is to make things
It was Chara who first introduced the idea of devoting the
couple’s personal estate to helping children and families. In 2006, they established the Stoneleigh Foundation,
which works to improve the futures of vulnerable and underserved children and
youth by awarding fellowships to innovative practitioners in the field. Chara volunteered
with many organizations, and was considered one of the founders of the Pathway
School in Norristown, PA, where she served as chair of the board.
She was preceded in death by her husband and is survived by a
daughter, Barbara, and sons David, Leonard, Frederick and Duncan, and 10
Memorial services will be held Saturday, Sept. 15 at 10 a.m.
at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, 625 Montgomery Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010,
and Saturday, Sept. 22 at 11 a.m. at Bryn Athyn Cathedral, 900 Cathedral Road,
Bryn Athyn, PA 19009. The service at
Bryn Athyn Cathedral will also be live-streamed and archived at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/brynathynservice.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Mrs. Haas’
memory to support the University of Pennsylvania Health System Penn
Comprehensive Neuroscience Center. Checks should be written to the Trustees of
the University of Pennsylvania (write “John and Chara Haas Fund” in the memo) Office
of Development and Alumni Relations, 3535 Market Street, Suite 750, Phila, PA
19104, Attn: Michael L. Balaban – Senior Major Gifts Officer. Donations
may also be made to Academy of the New Church, Donor Relations, Box 708, Bryn
Athyn, PA 19009; or to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Fund, Attn:
Chara Haas Memorial Gifts, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA 02115