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New Columnist Runs Through Life in State College

by on July 01, 2014 6:40 AM

Hi there! My name is John Hook and I'll be your columnist today.

If the first thought you had when you read that was the same thought I have whenever I sit down in a restaurant, namely, "Well, I sure hope that's what you'll be doing today, because that's why I came here", then you may be in the right place.

If not, we'll wait for you to catch up.

It's important to note that the operative word here is that I will be functioning as a "columnist" – not reporting news. Heaven forbid the local journalism professionals should think I am actually attempting to join their sage fraternity.

Notwithstanding the 400-level journalism ethics course I took 35 years ago here at Penn State. Which, now that we're ruminating about it ... If they are still offering that course it should take about five hours and involve the showing of two movies – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Absence of Malice. Everything any budding journalist needs to know about ethics is summed up in those films. (Movie and music references are likely to be a recurring theme in my writing)

Where was I? Oh yes, a columnist. I guess the primary thing to note is that although I appreciate pragmatism I prefer blue-sky thinking. As a way of introducing myself here are a few thoughts on what ground we may be treading in future columns ...

My family and I moved to Happy Valley in late 2005. We now have almost nine adult years of experience with the people, places and things of the area. This offers a seemingly unending cornucopia of topics to wax poetic about. Such as, well, shock of shocks, the people, places and things in our area!

I am closely involved with two nonprofit organizations here in Happy Valley -- the Mount Nittany Conservancy and Penn State Centre Stage. The first provides a lot of ground to cover. History, conservation, and volunteerism among others. The second means Art. Specifically, beautiful, glorious performing Art. With a big capital A. Between the two we can also delve into charities, boards (run away, run away!), philanthropy and some of the most generous people in the country.

While here I've taken it upon myself to get through most of the 5K fundraising races in the area. Of which there are many. My wife likes to call it "slogging." For "slow-jogging."

Then whenever free time rears its ugly head and the calendar complies we take in some of the excellent collegiate athletic contests the university hosts – football, basketball, wrestling, soccer and volleyball are the usual recipients of our eyeballs and concession dollars. This will give us plenty of fodder for athletically-oriented columns (we might even touch on the Athletic Department's potential to regain a town-friendly attitude regarding its facilities!).

I would be remiss here if I didn't mention that I also sit on the State College Area Board of School Directors Citizens Advisory Committee for Finance (mouthful, huh?). Our purpose "is to advise the superintendent and board of school directors on matters concerning the short-and long-range fiscal operations of the school district." Which means that I may attempt to write something about school finances someday (I know, I can't wait either!).

Before moving to fabulous Happy Valley we lived in Bucks County, Pa. for seven years – Yardley to be exact. OK, that's not quite exact either. Technically we lived in Lower Makefield Township, but much like here, if you live in the "Township" your mailing address is the town. There's at least one column on governmental organization filing itself away in my brain this very minute.

While living in Yardley I worked in New York City and joined thousands of others commuting daily on the northeast corridor trains – Amtrak for me (no New Jersey Transit – I'm a train snob!). Surely there are a few mass-transit columns squished between some of these other concepts in my head. Not to mention all the differing facets of work life between New York City and State College.

We relocated to Yardley from the wonderful tourist mecca of Orlando, Florida when our daughter was four years-old. The reason was ostensibly the educational opportunities available in those Bucks County school districts for our about-to-be-kindergarten-bound daughter.

Suffice it to say we never utilized those opportunities and our daughter homeschooled exclusively for 11 years. Our son followed in his sister's footsteps and homeschooled exclusively for six years before going to a charter school here in State College and then the regular middle school this year. Let's just say that education might be an occasional theme in these columns.

As mentioned above, my wife and I spent 13 years of our young-adult life – and the first 13 years of our soon-to-be 28 year marriage – living in Orlando, Florida.

When we arrived in Orlando in early 1986 the population was around 500,000. By the time we left in 1999 the population was well over one million. The plethora of things to write about from that experience includes a whole host of topics – community-
growth, sprawl, taxes, home-construction, snowbirds, good-government and of course, weather.

But where did it all start? I was born and raised in central Pennsylvania and enrolled at Penn State in 1977. While here I met my wife who is a true local and we went from there. This gives me the "full-circle" vision of having come back after 20 years away and seeing what did and didn't change – as well having the benefit of a wife who grew up here and goes back even further than me.

That will give you a taste of the potential introspective menu options and perhaps provoke a few thoughts of your own.

So, back to the start ... My name is John Hook and I'll be your columnist today. Can I take your order now?

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John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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