Board of Trustees

Our trustees serve three-year terms, renewable to nine years. This process assures continuity of input and the presence of strong civic leaders guiding your community foundation. Trustees attend an issues briefing and regular board meeting each quarter.

Our board trustees are selected in partnership with various civic and professional groups including the Orphans' Court, United Way of Erie County, Erie County Bar Association, Erie County Medical Society and the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership.

Karen Bilowith, President & CEO

Karen joined the community foundation in October 2021. She leads the foundation’s efforts to improve the quality of life in the region in partnership with generous donors, effective nonprofit agencies, community leaders and a committed board of trustees and staff.

Karen has spent her career working in community philanthropy, where generosity is transformed into sustained community impact. Karen was formerly the President and CEO of the Idaho Community Foundation, a statewide public charitable foundation with more than $218 million in assets and 640 individual funds providing grants in every county in Idaho. Prior to joining the Idaho Community Foundation in 2016, she held the position of President and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region in Albany, New York. She also held an executive position with United Way of the Greater Capital Region also in upstate New York.

During her time in Idaho, Ms. Bilowith served on the boards of Philanthropy Northwest, the Idaho Nonprofit Center, Bogus Basin Recreational Association, and the International Women’s Forum Idaho Chapter. Formerly, she was appointed to New York Governor Cuomo’s Capital Region Economic Development Council and the Saratoga-Capital District Park, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission. She was a founding board member of the Women’s Fund of the Capital Region and a member of the Forum for Executive Women. In 2020 she was recognized as a CEO of Influence award by the Idaho Business Review and in June 2013 received the Key4Women Achieve Award.

Karen holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Boston College and is a current board member of Pennsylvania Association of Community Foundations.

Deborah W. Murphy, CFP®, Board Chair

Deborah W. Murphy, CFP®, Senior Vice President-Wealth Management with UBS Financial Services, Inc., and the senior partner of The Murphy Advisory Group, joined The Erie Community Foundation in 2016.

Ms. Murphy began her career in 1970 as an Assistant Trust Officer with Security Peoples Bank. In 1976, she joined PaineWebber, now UBS Financial Services, as a Financial Advisor. She was Branch Manager of the Erie office from 1987 – 1991, and she established The Murphy Advisory Group within UBS in 1999. Currently, she serves on the Board of Governors of the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra and is on the Development Committee for Erie Arts & Culture. She also serves as an Honorary Life Corporator with Hamot Health Foundation and is a member of Estate Planning Council of Erie. In 2022, Deb was recognized with the prestigious honor as Forbes Top Women Wealth Advisor.

Ms. Murphy is the recipient of many distinguished awards including Erie Jaycee's Outstanding Young Woman of the Year, Arts Service Award from Erie Area Fund for the Arts and the Applause Award from Erie Arts & Culture.

​David M. Tullio, Board Vice Chair

David M. Tullio, President and CEO of Custom Engineering Company and Lamjen, Inc., located in Erie, PA, and Venango Machine Company, Wattsburg, PA., joined The Erie Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2017.

Mr. Tullio earned his B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern University, and received his MBA from the Behrend College of Penn State University. For nearly 30 years, Mr. Tullio has worked in various management positions within the manufacturing industry, and assumed his current position at Custom Engineering in 1997.

Mr. Tullio has spent much of his career actively involved in economic and workforce development in the Erie region. He is a past chairman and board member of the Manufacturer and Business Association, a former member of Northwest PA Workforce Investment Board, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry board, Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership board and the Northwest Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center board. He currently serves on Penn State Behrend’s Council of Fellows.

James R. Walczak, Esq., Board Secretary

James R. Walczak, Esq., Partner of MacDonald Illig Jones and Britton, LLP, joined The Erie Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2018.

Atty. Walczak, who concentrates his practice in the areas of corporate governance, business transactions and finance, and creditors' rights, earned a B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University and a Master of Laws (Taxation) from Georgetown University Law Center. He also obtained a Master of Arts from University of Denver and his Juris Doctorate from University of Denver College of Law.

Atty. Walczak acts in the capacity of general counsel for a number of business, non-profit and governmental organizations, providing legal advice on corporate, transactional and tax matters. Atty. Walczak is listed in the Bond Buyer Municipal Market Place Guide (commonly known as the municipal bond attorney's Red Book), and regularly provides tax advice and board counsel tax opinions with respect to tax-exempt financing transactions.

Atty. Walczak has been involved in a number of community initiatives, both in a legal and non-legal capacity. He was instrumental in the development of Jerry Uht Baseball Park in downtown Erie and on the Erie Bayfront, the U.S. Brig Niagara Maritime Museum, the Bayfront Convention Center, the Erie Bicentennial Tower and the Blasco Public Library. He is a former chairman and member of the Board of Directors of the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority and served as Chairman of the Governor's Commission on the U.S. Brig Niagara. He has also served a wide variety of other community organizations in a number of capacities.

Marcus S. Atkinson

Marcus S. Atkinson, in 2019, Marcus S. Atkinson, Principal at M. Atkinson & Associates Consulting, and Founder/CEO of The Publix Voice Media LLC, joined The Erie Community Foundation Board of Trustees. He serves as the Chair of the ECF Board of Trustees DEI Committee.

A native of Erie and a graduate of Strong Vincent, Mr. Atkinson spent over a decade in Atlanta, GA, where he earned a degree in Business from Clayton State University. There he immersed himself in political and community organization, learning the necessity of bridging disparaging gaps that exist in communities between local government, school districts and businesses. As a result, he brings his experience and expertise to his current roles in supporting businesses and organizations within and outside the community. Most recently he served as executive director of ServErie.

In service to Erie, Mr. Atkinson also serves board chair for MLK Jr. Memorial Center, a member of The UPMC Hamot Board of Corporators, and board member for Crime Victim Center (CVC).

Rev. Donald L. Baxter, Jr., M.D.

Reverend Don Baxter, Jr., M.D. joined The Erie Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2015.

He earned B.A. in English Literature from Pennsylvania State University and his medical degree from Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia. Dr. Baxter completed his internship and residency at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He served in the United States Navy as Lieutenant Commander, Medical Corps, from 1979 to 1992, when he was honorably discharged. In 2002, Dr. Baxter graduated from Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania School for Ministry.

He is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, performs as an actor and vocalist for The Erie Playhouse.

William M. Hilbert, Jr.

William M. Hilbert Jr., President /CEO of Reddog Industries, Inc., a local manufacturer specializing in precision machining, design and manufacture of high pressure plastic injection molds & aluminum and zinc die cast dies, joined The Erie Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2017.

Mr. Hilbert started his career in manufacturing in 1981, after graduating from the University of Dayton. In service to his community, he currently serves on several Board of Directors, including Camp Notre Dame, Inc., University of Dayton Advisory Council for the School of Arts and Sciences, Sisters of St. Joseph Missions & Ministries Foundation and the Erie Regional Manufacturer’s Partnership.

Charles G. Knight, III, CPA

Charles G. Knight III, CPA, CVA, founding partner and Managing Principal of Schaffner, Knight, Minnaugh & Company, P.C., joined The Erie Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2018. He serves as Chair of ECF's Board of Trustees Audit, Finance & Technology Committee.

Since the firm's inception through 2008, Mr. Knight was the principal in charge of the Firm’s accounting and auditing services. On November 3, 2008, the Firm named him managing principal, succeeding Jim Schaffner.

A graduate of McDowell High School, Mr. Knight earned his B.S. degree in Accounting from Gannon University. He became a Certified Public Accountant in 1984 and a Certified Valuation Analyst in 1999.

In addition to working several years in private industry as a controller, Mr. Knight has more than 25 years of experience in public practice.

Professionally, Mr. Knight is a member of the American and Pennsylvania Institutes of Certified Public Accountants and the National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts.

Mr. Knight is a past Director of the Board of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership and a past trustee of Mercyhurst University, where he served as the chair of the Committee on Budget and Finance. He was also a member of the University’s Executive Committee and its Committee on Trusteeship.

In service to our community, Mr. Knight was a founding board member of the new chapter of Smiles for a Lifetime, and is past treasurer and member of the United Way of Erie County Board of Directors. He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees for Marquette Savings Bank, and also served on the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee for the Kahkwa Club.

Annē L. Lewis

Annē L. Lewis, a North East native, currently serves as Director of Marketing for Red Letter Hospitality.

She graduated from Penn State University with a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a minor in Entrepreneurship. As Director of Marketing, she is responsible for advertising and communications for The Cork 1794, Molly Brannigan’s and The Skunk & Goat Tavern. She coordinates all social media platforms, website and menu development, advertising campaigns, public relations initiatives nurturing relationships with local businesses, and community engagement.

Ms. Lewis is a member of the Athena Circle of Trust, Young Erie Professionals, Young Erie Philanthropists, Hamot Health Foundation Corporator, Perry Square Alliance Board Member, a 2019 graduate of Jefferson Civic Leadership Academy, 40 under 40 recipient, and a constant cheerleader to the Erie Community. She has worked extremely hard on rooting herself in the Erie community to do her part in energizing and growing the city.

Sarah Hagen McWilliams

Sarah Hagen McWilliams, community volunteer and philanthropist, joined The Erie Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2018.  

Ms. McWilliams graduated with a B.A. in Art History from Wittenberg University in 1988.  She went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and worked for several years in a clinical capacity with adult survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Ohio. 

Over the years, Ms. McWilliams has served on many boards including, Preservation Bath, Alleghany Mountain String Project, Bath County Arts Association, Community Foundation for Rockbridge, Bath & Alleghany, Alleghany Highlands Free Clinic, Safehome Womens’ Shelter, Bath County Historical Society, and T.O.T.S. Preschool.

Currently Ms. McWilliams serves on the boards of Wittenberg University, Bath Community Hospital, Garth Newel Music Center, Erie CORE Advisory Board and Bath County Behavioral Health Coalition. 

Robin Scheppner

Robin Scheppner, an Erie native, is the President and Managing Owner of American Tinning & Galvanizing (ATG). Since Robin took the helm at ATG, the company has nearly doubled its workforce, invested millions of dollars in infrastructure and equipment, earned prestigious aerospace certification and consistently enjoyed double digit growth.

Ms. Scheppner holds many degrees and credentials including a BFA from Denison University, teaching credentials from Cleveland State University and University of Utah, an associate degree in Building Construction from Salt Lake Community College. Prior to her position at ATG she taught art at an inner-city junior high school in the Cleveland Public School System then eventually taught in Naples, Florida. Ms. Scheppner became licensed in insurance and mutual fund sales and opened the first office of Ameriprise Financial Services in Naples. She also has high-rise construction management experience working as designer and project manager for a high-end cabinet company.

In service to her community, Ms. Scheppner has been involved in various service and benevolent organizations throughout her varied work experiences. Since returning to Erie, she reaffirmed her membership at Wayside Presbyterian Church where she serves as a Deacon. She joined the Erie Women’s Fund of The Erie Community Foundation and recently served as their Chair for three years. She became a panel advisor to five Athena Powerlink recipients over six years. She is an original member and is still serving on the Mayor's Business Council for Joe Schember. She is a member of Rotary and an active United Way Board member. Currently, she chairs the United Way’s Resource Development Committee and serves on the Executive Board of Women United for Community Schools.

Thomas A. Tupitza, Esq.

Thomas A. Tupitza, Esq., has served since 2007 as President of Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett, P.C., an Erie-based law firm with offices in Pittsburgh, North East, and Jamestown, New York. He joined The Erie Community Foundation Board of Trustees in 2020.

A graduate of Harvard Law School and Westminster College, Mr. Tupitza advises clients in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors on finance, real estate, and governance matters. A past president of the Pennsylvania Association of Bond Lawyers, he is active as bond counsel in tax-exempt financing transactions and is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and New York. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute and a licensed consultant for the Standards of Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector.

Mr. Tupitza is a current board member of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, the United Way of Erie County, The Nonprofit Partnership, and Westminster College, and is a past board chair of the Chamber and Westminster. He has also chaired the boards of UPMC Hamot, the Erie City Mission, Northwestern Legal Services, VisitErie, and the Erie County Historical Society, and has served on the boards of the Hamot Health Foundation, UPMC, the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, the Warner Theatre Preservation Trust, and the Foundation for Erie’s Public Schools.

Karinna Vernaza, Ph.D.

Karinna Vernaza, Ph.D., a native to Panama City, Panama, is the Dean of the College of Engineering and Business and a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Gannon University. She has authored more than 40 peer-reviewed publications centering on high-strain deformation of materials and engineering education. Recently, she has focused on systemic strategies for the retention and advancement of STEM faculty and students, and academic interventions to improve student success. She is currently the Program Director of a $1.5 million dollars Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Power Investment and has secured over $2.5 million dollars in grants during her tenure at Gannon University. During the past three years, Dr. Vernaza has led the academic development, space design, and R&D and operations contracts in the Institute of Health and Cyber Knowledge (I-Hack).

She attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering Systems. After graduating, she was employed as a Ship Manager in Braswell Shipyards in Panama. Dr Vernaza was awarded a Project Latin America 2000 Graduate Fellowship by the Kellogg Institute, the Coca-Cola Company, and the University of Notre Dame to perform graduate studies. She earned a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Mechanical from the University of Notre Dame.

Dr. Vernaza is active in the community, is an Erie Ambassador, serves on the Board of Directors for the Erie Technology Incubator, the ExpERIEnce Children Museum and PSNERGY, LLC. She regularly volunteers on the Society of Women Engineers, serves as a mentor for young women in partnership with the Northwest Pennsylvania Girls Scout Council, and serves as reviewer for the American Society of Engineering Education Conference. She also serves in the ASCEND Advisory Board, and NSF funded program.