Paul O'Brien

Paul O’Brien

In accepting the Optimist Outstanding Community Service Award, Paul O’Brien spent most of the time talking about others in the room: family members, employees, friends, those he relies on to make him look good.
“There’s a lot of people in this room that probably deserve more to be up here than me,” O’Brien, 76, of Brookfield said May 22 at the award presentation.
The Brookfield Optimist Club chose O’Brien for his decades of community service, fundraising for community causes and economic development efforts.
Chief among his accomplishments is the 38 years of the O’Brien Children Memorial Fund, which has served “the most vulnerable members of our valley,” said Optimist presenter James Hoffman III. “Focusing on the children and the elderly, the fund distributes to those in need, people who Paul says are at the end of their ropes. No reasonable request is refused.”
The fund has paid for things such as medical and dental attention, wheelchairs, ramps and equipment needed by those who are handicapped, Hoffman said.
The fund was created by O’Brien and his wife, Tina, following the death of their three young children and Tina’s mom, Lola.
“This terrific loss would be devastating for anyone, and it was for Paul and Tina as well, but they drew on each other’s strength and the support of their friends and family and clergy and were determined to keep the love and memory of their children and Tina’s mother alive and productive,” Hoffman said. “They sought strength and healing in their faith.”
As part of that healing, they made pilgrimages and went on mission trips.
“In the summer of 1981, on a mission trip to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Paul identified with the poor and the sick and the trip became the inspiration for the O’Brien Children Memorial Fund,” Hoffman said.
Members of their family wanted to do something for Paul and Tina O’Brien, and organized a lobster clambake fundraiser for the fund, which continues to be held annually.
“There was no existing Community Foundation then, so the O’Brien Children Memorial Fund became the seed money and the founding fund of the Shenango Valley Foundation, which is now called the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio,” Hoffman said.
O’Brien, a Brookfield High School graduate who served in the Army and Air Force reserves, has advised other charities, including the Strimbu Memorial Fund and the Meszaros Family Fund.
He has served on boards and/or raised money for Buhl Park in Hermitage; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concerts in New Castle; the Salvation Army; Community Food Warehouse, which serves Mercer County; the Hope Center for Arts and Technology in Sharon, which has a building thanks to O’Brien’s donation of the former Sacred Heart School; and Junior Achievement.
“They have raised money and helped out projects for the Brookfield park, a big supporter of the Brookfield Backpack Program, and donated money for tables for the Brookfield old-timers meeting and construction of the welcome to Brookfield sign on the village green,” Hoffman said.
“He’s never home,” Hoffman quipped.
Hoffman said he asked O’Brien “what drives him to become what he is become, (and) he said that, sometimes in our lives we all need some help, and when we receive help, we have a duty to pay that forward and help others.”
“I’d like to thank the Optimist Club for keeping the tradition alive, for everything they do, and their continued dedication to the area,” said O’Brien, the president of Rien Construction Co.