'Two farm kids' grow into their roles as community contributors

Heather Longley
May 08, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As children of Great Depression-era parents, Lam and Lina Hood grew up in farm families who subsisted on the basics. Little remained for extravagances such as music lessons or an evening enjoying live theater, so in adulthood, they wanted to experience all they could. They found ways to enjoy various events and give back to their communities.

The couple’s volunteerism and unwavering support for the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State — as ushers for more than 20 years and members since the mid-2000s — earned the Hoods the center’s 2019 Distinguished Service Award.

“They are shining examples of engaged volunteers and donors,” center Director George Trudeau said. “They have reached out to engage many others in our community to join with them in supporting the Center for the Performing Arts. This is a very well-deserved recognition of their outstanding service.”

Lam, born in Johnstown, grew up in Bucks County; while Lina is a State College native. Their final move to State College came after years of living in university towns such as Minneapolis and Ithaca, New York, while Lam worked toward his undergraduate, master’s and doctorate degrees.

According to Lina, the couple was close to retirement when she realized they were missing “lots of good things here at the university” due to their full schedules. Lam was working long hours as dean of Penn State’s College of Agriculture, and she was with Conferences and Institutes at Penn State Outreach. She said a friend suggested they consider ushering for the center as a way to stay abreast of its schedule. Ushering provided the couple with many excuses to enjoy the performing arts and make new friends.

“It was fun getting to know that group of people,” Lina said. She added that they would run into people while out and about, and a couple of the ushers also lived in their neighborhood, which made it easy to socialize.

“Lina and Lam were my absolute favorite volunteer couple,” said Lisa McLain Wagner, the center’s former audience services manager. “They always had a smile on their face, and they were genuinely happy to report for duty.”

In 2006, Lina joined the center’s new Volunteer Event Staff Advisory Board, an entity formed to discuss policy questions and patron-related issues. That year, the couple also became official sponsoring members. From 2011 to 2018, Lam was a member of the center’s Community Advisory Council, the final two years as chairman.

“I think the important thing for us has always been to sponsor,” Lam said. “We’ve supported the center in a whole lot of different ways. I think when I was on the council, it felt like we needed to step up and do more than we’d been doing. … The whole idea was to try to encourage others to step up.”

One way he aimed to rally support for the center was to co-sponsor an event with others. He said he understands that for some sponsors the price tag might be hefty, “so sponsoring with a small group of people or another couple is one way to give back without breaking the bank.”

While on the council, Lam also participated in last summer’s push to link the local arts organizations to the region’s economic prosperity.

The couple’s contributions to and involvement in the community doesn’t stop with the Center for the Performing Arts. The Hoods have contributed to the College of Agricultural Sciences and have created a Penn State scholarship for adult learners. He has worked with Habitat for Humanity and is passionate about the issue of affordable workforce housing in Centre County. She helps out with Centre Volunteers in Medicine. Both are members of The Arboretum at Penn State’s Founders Circle and ardent supporters of Mount Nittany Health. They also participate in social circles in their housing development, enjoy a variety of Penn State sports, and support volleyball boosters.

“One of the best draws of living here?” Lam asked rhetorically while pointing in the direction of Penn State. “That place up on the hill and everything that comes with it.”

“When you think about retiring, retire near a university, because you will never wont for something to do — from the athletics, to the lectures, to the art, you name it. Whichever way you want to go, there’s a ton of things to do,” Lina said.

They both said that by helping others, they are helping to make the community better for everyone. The spirit of the award — which recognizes dedication, contributions and service to the center — pairs neatly with the Hoods’ longstanding ideology.

“We’ve always had the philosophy of giving back to the community in a variety of ways, not just financially, because the community provides so much for us,” Lam said.

He added that when they were informed they would be this season’s award-winning couple, he was incredulous that the award was going to “these two farm kids.”

“We’re honored,” Lam said. “We really are.”

Hoods’ sponsor history

  • Balé Folclórica da Bahia, February 2017
  • Tommy Igoe and the Birdland All-Stars, January 2018
  • Czech National Symphony with John Mauceri and Isabel Leonard, February 2019

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 08, 2019