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We Are ...

by on August 28, 2012 10:50 AM

Centre County and its communities are filled with farmers, doctors, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, teachers, retirees, artists, researchers, and so much more. Some were born and raised here; many, however, are from various parts of the United States and even the world.

They all — we all — call this place Home.

This month, Town&Gown begins its series by the people who live here on why they live here and are proud to live here. They’re your neighbors, coworkers, and friends — people our extended community can count on to see it through difficult times:

Rob Schmidt

Publisher, Town&Gown magazine

For most of my life I have called State College home. My family moved here from Southern California when I was five years old and we settled in the small, growing Ferguson Township neighborhood known as Park Hills. I saw my first snowfall that winter, played Wiffle Ball with my friends that summer, and my dad took me to my first Penn State football game the next fall. I couldn’t imagine going to any other university than Penn State. But after graduation, like many who grew up here, I was anxious to leave. So at 24, with a new wife and a new job, I ventured to Connecticut, never thinking I would return.

I wouldn’t trade the time we spent in New England for anything, but after my radio station was sold I was offered the chance to come back to State College. So at 30, with a newborn daughter in tow, my wife and I returned Home. With a new family and a new perspective I rediscovered all the things I took for granted in my youth. Just as my parents did 25 years earlier, we found a new, growing neighborhood on the other end of town, surrounded by other young families and plenty of kids.

I quickly realized why this is such a great place to raise a family. Our two children had the benefit of attending great schools and have enjoyed a wonderful quality of life. No wonder State College is often rated as one of the best places to live.

Let’s face it — there is something special about college towns. We enjoy the special small-town feel combined with the energy of a big university. Where else can you stroll through a huge summer arts festival or watch a Broadway-caliber show? And you don’t have to travel to the big city to catch Springsteen, The Eagles, or any of the countless entertainers we have seen at the Bryce Jordan Center.

And we bleed blue and white. The moments that most link childhood to adulthood surround Penn State sports. My father and I watched Ron Brown hit a half-court shot to beat Pitt in Rec Hall. My son and I watched Talor Battle hit a game-winner, well, more than once. I sat with my dad and 60,000 others in Beaver Stadium for Band Day. I sat with my son and 110,000 others and cheered on the Nittany Lions at the first “White Out.”

As I reflect on why I love it here, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from T.S. Eliot: We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.

Leaving home for a while gave me a better appreciation for the place I call Home.

Mimi Barash Coppersmith

Founder, Town&Gown magazine

When I ventured here as a naïve 17-year- old pup (the youngest and first of my Eastern European immigrant parents’ four children to dare do this!), never did I expect not to find my way out of town or to be molded into a woman who could ultimately find an absolutely fulfilling, overwhelmingly joyous, and well- rounded life in a place equally inaccessible from all directions. I arrived in 1950 — the same fall as Joe Paterno. I got to know him quite well. Often, he leaned on me for favors and I did the same with him. Another newcomer, Milton S. Eisenhower, embarked on a mission to transform the Pennsylvania State College into a great academic university. (My class diploma proudly sports University for the first time!)

Reluctantly, my parents had dropped me in a community that had no “real synagogue.” It did have a strong Hillel Foundation, led by Rabbi Ben Kahn, who subbed as community rabbi as needed. Understandably, my folks clung to their deep Jewish traditions in spite of a backdrop of remembering the persecution and devastation of their parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews.

Education became a priority in our home. For various complicated reasons, my dad had left school (in Hungary) after seventh grade; my mother (in the United States) after 10th grade. I became their symbol of hope for a better future: higher education.

As we all try to recover from the horrific developments surrounding the “Sandusky Scandal,” I count my blessings as someone who has been afforded endless opportunities to live, work, play, pray, and grow in this remarkable environment — we call it town and gown.

I have learned and experienced the true heartbeat of this community for more than 62 years and through several significant personal tragedies (we all get them, sooner or later, but never expect them!) during which there were outflows of help, support, encouragement, and kindness coming my way. We now need that genre of energy — together as a team — to refocus our mission of excellence in every respect on both sides of College Avenue.

I believe it was Pat Schroeder, the former congresswoman from Colorado, who said during her appearance at the Claster Lecture Series at Penn State in 1983, “Our work as citizens is a lot like housework. It never ends. We can either wring our hands in despair or use them to roll up our shirtsleeves and try to find new ways to make a difference.”

Vilma Shu Danz

Operations manager/assistant editor, Town&Gown magazine

State College is an enchanted place where some of us can’t seem to find our way out of town. It’s where I earned my bachelor of arts degrees in English, French, and economics at Penn State. It’s where I get to express my thoughts as a writer for Town&Gown magazine. It’s where I fell in love with my “townie” husband Lee Danz, and where I plan to raise my family.

For someone who is originally from China, born in Brazil, grew up in Nigeria, and went to high school in Switzerland, I never would have guessed as a child that I would call State College, Pennsylvania, home.

The story of how I ended up here began long before I was born. When my father was in college in São Paulo, a group of exchange students from Penn State came to visit his campus. They talked about this wonderful little town in the middle of Pennsylvania. They made such an impression on him that when I was applying for college he insisted I apply to Penn State.

When I first arrived in State College, I remember getting off a twin-engine propeller airplane at University Park Airport, driving past acres of farmland in a Handy Delivery taxicab, and thinking “I don’t know if I can live in such a rural area!” And at the time, the only “futebol” I followed was the World Cup.

More than a decade later, a lot has changed. I am a Penn State football and Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I like the privacy of owning a home on more than an acre of land. I don’t mind the quiet country roads that keep me close to nature. I have even started flying a single-engine airplane. This past May, my younger brother became a Penn State grad and also has chosen to make State College home.

I don’t know if those Penn Staters my father met all those years ago still live in State College, read Town&Gown, or realize that by sharing their Penn State story, they touched our lives and helped us find our way home.

Jennifer Pencek

Associate editor, Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Growing up in Eastern Connecticut, never did I think I would make my home — and life

— in Central Pennsylvania. But that is exactly what happened after meeting my husband- to-be, David, a Penn State alum who still had connections to the area.

David and I met while we were both working at the same newspaper in Connecticut. After falling in love and feeling the need for a change, we decided to give Pennsylvania a try. As luck would have it, we were able to move to Tipton, and later State College, where we have lived for more than five years. We’ve never looked back.

While it is still hard to be away from my family in Connecticut, Happy Valley is our home and the place we want to raise our 3-year-old son, Ryan, and grow old together. It’s difficult to describe why this region has come to mean so much to me — it’s the mountains, the people, just the feeling of home. It’s the community — arts organizations, attractions for families, various organizations helping others. We’re close to stores, restaurants, and other towns. We can just as easily go on a country drive as we can head to heavily populated areas.

This is just home — it’s where I was married and where my son was born.

I had my first college tailgating experience here, and I love getting dressed in my blue and white to attend football games. I also love going to Penn State basketball and softball games, and enjoy cheering on the Spikes. But the area is more than sports. We have found a wonderful church family at Grace Lutheran Church and see ourselves worshipping there for many years to come. Our family also has expanded to our great friends who we never would have met had we not moved here. We belong to Mamas and Daddies of Happy Valley, a group of parents and children who get together monthly to participate in various activities and just have fun.

Taking my son to the Penn State Arboretum and the various parks and outdoor areas to watch him run and explore brings me endless joy. My husband and I look forward to seeing our little boy grow into a wonderful man, who will fondly recall his childhood here.

Happy Valley to me really does mean happiness. We’re not perfect — no one is — but I am proud to call State College and Happy Valley home.

Andrea Boyles

CEO, Centre County Youth Service Bureau

For more than 17 years I drove from Blair County to Centre County five, six, and even seven days a week to a job that I love. With each passing year, more and more of my waking hours were spent in Centre County. In Blair, my home became simply a house, as home to me became the Youth Service Bureau (YSB) and the county that embraces it.

Finally this past spring I discovered the perfect house here in Centre County, and I can speak easily to what I love about living all my hours here.

This job that I love gives me access to all of Centre County’s splendor. I work with families who struggle but also are steeped in tradition and love for one another. I work with children who have great dreams and who are grateful beyond compare. I meet small-business owners who give freely even in a struggling economy to help YSB help those kids and families. I spend time with major donors to YSB who could easily ignore the needs that exist, but instead not only give monetarily but also ask brilliant questions and never tire of learning about the work we do.

Beyond my work, I can shop in tiny meat markets, produce stands, and specialty shops every day. I can hike and take scenic drives and enjoy theater here in my own community. I can be a welcoming stranger to visiting student- athletes and their families, and host to friends and family who love my town.

I am proud to be a part of this community, grateful to live here, and eager to help as we grow stronger, safer, and more resilient — just like YSB kids do every day!

Cheryl White

Executive director, Centre Volunteers in Medicine

As a Penn State student on the University Park campus, I fell in love with the town of State College and all it had to offer. Years later, when my family was given the opportunity to move to State College, we jumped at the chance.

After 11 years in the Washington, DC, area, we longed for the small-town feel of the Centre Region, and knew this would be a great place to grow our family. Now, many years later, I have the honor of working as the executive director of our local free clinic. The clinic is volunteer based, and more than 90 percent of our annual budget comes from the community — ninety percent!

We are blessed to live in a community where people give of their time, talent, and treasure to help their neighbors who are less fortunate!



David Pencek is editor of Town&Gown magazine, Town&Gown's Penn State Football Annual, and Town&Gown's Penn State Winter Sports Annual.
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