Couple’s gift creates opportunities for children at The Arboretum at Penn State

Susan Burlingame
November 06, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “The Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden speaks to the youngest of children in a very profound way,” said Linda Duerr, coordinator of educational programs at The Arboretum at Penn State, while reflecting on the impact of a recent philanthropic gift from Dennis and Sandra Hall. “Dennis and Sandra are educators themselves, and they understand the power of place-based and discovery-based learning. In part because of their generosity, we will be able to enrich our programming for children and families.”

Sandra Parker Hall and Dennis Hall recently added $50,000 to The Sandra L. Parker and Dennis K. Hall Education Program Support to the Children’s Garden, an endowment they created in 2014 for children and families who visit Childhood’s Gate, which opened that year. The couple are long-time supporters of the Arboretum. Their passion for it, they said, stemmed from a love of education, a love of agriculture and nature, and a friendship with Charles “Skip” Smith and his late wife, Marge. Skip Smith’s founding gift launched construction of the Arboretum, which opened to the public in 2009.

The Halls, both of whom are retired and hold master’s degrees from the Penn State College of Education, worked closely with children during their careers. Sandra Parker Hall was a senior family and consumer science educator for Penn State Extension, and Dennis Hall was a division chief for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture whose career also included developing programs for people with disabilities. The couple has made the Arboretum the focus not only of their philanthropy but also of their spare time. Both volunteer several hours at the Arboretum each week, giving tours, conducting children’s programs, and even planting and tending flowers and vegetables.

“It’s so important to start early with the education of children,” said Dennis Hall. “The children’s garden lets them see and touch and even taste plants and vegetables. They can see how plants grow and learn the role of sustainability through their experiences.”

Hall recounted the story of what he described as a “harried” father who came to the children’s garden with his daughter before dropping her off at child care. “He wasn’t relating to his little girl at all,” said Hall, who encouraged the child to touch lamb’s ear, a perennial herb with a soft, white, hair-like coating on its curved leaves. “The father and daughter discovered and enjoyed the plant together, and I could see their relationship change immediately. They ended up being late for day care.”

“The Arboretum and the children’s garden are both set up to provide opportunities for growth and discovery,” added Sandra Parker Hall, who with her husband also made past gifts to the children’s garden for its “In and Out Creek” and for Sandra’s namesake: “Parker” the caterpillar bench.

The Halls serve on the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences volunteer development council. Their gift represents the couple’s commitment to Penn State’s $1.6 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence.”

“The Halls’ continuing generosity goes directly to the heart of our goal for the children’s garden,” said Kim Steiner, professor of forest biology and director of the Arboretum. “Their latest gift reflects their belief — and ours — in the power of discovery to awaken curiosity and a sense of wonder about the natural world, even for the youngest of children.”

“The Arboretum is free of charge, and we hope it will always remain that way,” said Dennis Hall. “We love seeing the faces of the children light up when they experience the garden.”

The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences represents the foundation of Penn State and its land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University has begun "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives: Open Doors, Create Transformative Experiences, and Impact the World. Through teaching, research, and extension, and because of generous alumni and friends, the College of Agricultural Sciences is able to offer scholarships to one in four students, create life-shaping opportunities, and make a difference in the world by fueling discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit

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Last Updated November 29, 2018