Harry Wolpoff, WCL ’63

All in the Family

By Laura Herr

(L-R) Ron Staines, Sharon Wolpoff, Adrienne Wolpoff Pettey (seated), Carol Wolpoff, Sue Oliwa, Harry Wolpoff
(L-R) Ron Staines, Sharon Wolpoff, Adrienne Wolpoff Pettey (seated), Carol Wolpoff, Sue Oliwa, Harry Wolpoff

Harry Wolpoff ’63 had the humblest of beginnings.  He was part of a hard-working Washington, D.C. family of merchants descended from recent Eastern European immigrants, all of whom were committed to pulling together in support of one another and in support of their local community. Harry recognized early on that inherent in becoming part of something larger than oneself existed the opportunity to thrive rather than merely survive. He recognized the value and the power of giving back. And it would be a familial relationship with Washington College of Law that eventually became a philanthropic ‘giving back’ that continues to impact law students today, in the most meaningful of ways.

Wolpoff Family Foundation

Poised to merge his law firm after a stellar 44 year legal career, Harry found himself in the position to realize his dream of giving back on a larger scale by creating a foundation- The Wolpoff Family Foundation.  “His goal was two-fold.  It was a way to give back and it was a way to keep our family together.  Of crucial importance to him was the chance to support American University as an alum of the law school, but in a very specific fashion,” said Sharon Wolpoff, the Foundation’s Grants Committee Director, “he wanted to create a Student Emergency Fund.”

Members of the Wolpoff family, already familiar with working alongside one another in business, enthusiastically agreed to join Harry in this new endeavor.  Suzanne Oliwa, Executive Director, recounted that the Foundation became a way for the family to not only “pull together financial resources, but to draw upon all of the life experiences that we had from our various backgrounds, as well as our mutual commitment to philanthropy.” Established in 2008 by Harry and his wife Carol, the Wolpoff Family Foundation remains devoted to helping organizations that empower individuals, especially during times of transition. In fact, the Foundation has a deep commitment to helping provide individuals with basic necessities so that they may build and thrive.  By recognizing and assisting people in this vulnerable threshold space, as they move through crisis to stability, the Family Foundation offers its greatest impact.

Since 2009, the Wolpoff Family Foundation’s WCL Student Emergency Fund has continued to help students through unpredictable hardships, easing the stress that might make it difficult to study or reach their utmost potential at WCL, or in the extreme, undermine their ability to graduate. The Student Emergency Fund provides a financial safety net, should any student find themselves in a true crisis situation which can actually be remedied with money. Harry wanted to provide a way to transcend any such emergency that might interfere with a student’s ability to complete their legal studies. The fund is administered conservatively to ensure that that the most deserving students receive the benefit of the Foundation’s generosity. Should a student’s request not fall within the parameters of the Wolpoff Family’s intention, they will be guided to have their needs met through other means. 

But the family’s ties to AUWCL didn’t end with Harry.  Sharon Wolpoff not only obtained her undergraduate and graduate degrees in painting from American University, she would go on to graduate from Washington College of Law in 1985. “The family has a long and extraordinary connection to American University”, observed Sharon.  “I remember going to Harry’s law school graduation in 1963 when President Kennedy gave the graduation speech. I started undergraduate work at the AU Art department in 1970 and never really left. In fact, the AU Museum presented an exhibition of my artwork in 2017.” 

“As long time residents of the D.C. area, we’re very interested in making a difference in our own backyard,” says Oliwa, noting that members of the Wolpoff Family Foundation have an appreciation for family, a strong work ethic, community loyalty, and a love of art and culture.  “One of the things we understand is how connected we all are as a community,” affirmed Sharon, “You never know how far an act of kindness or your act of generosity will reach.

For information on how your vision and charitable estate planning can create a legacy at American University, contact Seth Speyer, director of planned giving, at 202-885-5914 or speyer@american.edu, or visit american.edu/plannedgiving.