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Patty Kleban: Why State College is Home

by on August 13, 2012 6:13 AM

The past few weeks have provided me with a renewed sense of State College as home.

To the many people who come to State College for the short time that is their college experience, the local people, the self-proclaimed townies, are, in many respects, the infrastructure that defines this area. The townies run the businesses where the students shop and work.

The locals are their landlords, their employers, the authorities, and sometimes their neighbors. Because of the university’s transient ever-changing student, and sometimes faculty, population, those of us who grew up here and who still live here are sometimes viewed as an insulated group with not much “big city” exposure.

State College and the people who live here have taken a hit in the media of late. We have been painted as insulated, isolated, and backwards. In actuality, we are Any Town, USA.

For many of us, State College is and has been home.

What do we define as home? According to the Pew Research Center, when adults are asked to define where they call home, 38 percent don’t say the place they are living now. The majority identify where they were born and raised, where their family is from or where they went to high school as the place they call home. Those who the researchers identify as stayers – those who have stayed in their hometown or in their home state – report that “home” provides a good place to raise kids, a connection to family, and a sense of belonging.

My husband and I are State College townies. We met in high school. We left for a few years after college but made a conscientious decision to return home to continue our careers and to raise our family. Our families of origin, ironically neither of which was directly affiliated with Penn State, are still in the area. Like many of the other “stayers” identified in the research, we have siblings (and therefore our kids have cousins) living nearby.

In the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to be reminded of the benefits of being from here. I have been reminded of why this is home.

I had the opportunity to spend a girl’s weekend with one of those friends from high school who we hold close to our hearts and who remain important and tied to us even if time goes by without contact. On the drive home from Lori’s house, after a weekend of wine, laughter and reconnecting, I found myself remembering who I am and where I come from.

Our shared history and memories of growing up in State College, our shared experience with our parents and siblings, and the parallel paths that we shared during our teen years, forged a bond that is stronger than most of the friendships I’ve made since, despite the divergent roads we took after high school.

Shortly after returning that weekend, I learned of the death of the mother of another close friend from State College. Lyne Dee has been a friend since elementary school. Her mother, like many of our friend’s parents when we are kids, was a huge influence in my growing up.

Mrs. DeLallo’s incredible smile, her infectious laughter, her amazing cooking, and her open front door had an impact on me and helped define who I am. Spending the days at the services and family gatherings with Lyne Dee and her family, her siblings, their kids and with Lyne Dee’s adorable new grandson, Jaxon, again reminded me of the foundation that growing up in a small town provides. Watching our sons hit it off and make similar connections felt as if we had come full circle.

What I am calling “old home week” ended with the All SCAHS 1970s reunion held over this past weekend. Classmates from the years 1970-79 joined together for an informal gathering at Champs on Friday night and then a dinner and program – and lots of laughs – at the Elks Club on Saturday night.

I didn’t know many of the people there but found myself laughing and reminiscing with friends from the Class of 1978, as well as with old and new friends who came before us. Shared giggles with my husband’s sister, the original Patty Kleban (now Klaus) and her fellow “seniors” from when I was a high school junior, made for a great night.

The organizers recognized several faculty members who came to celebrate with us and we paid tribute to retired principal Dr. Bingaman who humorously absolved us of all of antics from our high school years. When former choir director Jim Langton was helped to the stage to direct us all in a singing of the alma mater, I couldn’t help but smile at the number of people who sang along or who silently mouthed words that they still remember.

It may sound corny or uncool, but being a part of a larger group with shared history and experiences is a gift that I treasure.

As in many small towns and cities across America, the people who grow up and stay here are part of the thread that holds it together. We forge friendships, we build families and we value the foundation that it provides. To quote Maya Angelou, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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