When Deb and Stan Latta came to Penn State in the 1970s, their interests didn’t exactly match. But like all the best Penn State love stories, the two forged a connection that transcended their cultural differences and led to a life of growth and discovery. And now, the State College couple wants to give back.
The Lattas have made a significant financial contribution to the Center for the Performing Arts to enhance the arts at Penn State while strengthening their ties to the place they’ve called “home” for nearly 50 years.
In 1975, Deb arrived at Penn State from Lancaster with a deep connection to the arts and a passion for dancing and performance that molded much of who she was as a young woman. She went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and spent nearly 40 years in various education and administration roles.
When Deb arrived, Stan was in the final year of earning the first of four degrees at Penn State. He began with a bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Tourism Management and eventually earned advanced degrees in education, which supported his 40-year career in higher education.
“To that point in the 1970s, I was always an outdoors kind of guy. And because of being enrolled in Parks and Recreation as well as participating in all types of sports, I just wasn’t into the arts and honestly didn’t know much about it,” Stan Latta said. “Then I met Deb.”
The two served as resident assistants while in the East Halls residence area and met in 1977 when Stan was the RA coordinator. Deb was part of the Orchesis Dance Company, Penn State’s oldest dance company dating back to the 1930s, eventually becoming the company’s president during her senior year.
“It quickly became my second family while I was at Penn State,” Deb Latta said. “When we first started dating, I would drag Stan to all of the performances. Continuing to expose him to the arts became kind of a theme.”
On Dec. 20, 1977, in front of the Nittany Lion Shrine, Stan popped the question. Deb’s answer forever joined the two and over the next 40 years, while raising their two daughters and advancing their successful careers, the exposure to the arts continued.
As a family they attended countless theater, dance and musical performances at Penn State. After their daughters had grown and left home, the Lattas realized that the Center for the Performing Arts had become an integral part of their family’s culture.
“From my perspective, the impact from the arts has led to a more complete life,” Stan Latta said. “There’s more than just sports. There’s more than the academics. There’s a true sense of how you become a more well-rounded person because of the value of an artistic experience.”
With this welcomed realization, the couple wanted to move beyond continuing their annual CPA membership. Deb was asked to serve on the Center’s Performing Arts Advisory Council, which she did for six years. In 2016, shortly after Stan retired from his position at Penn State as an Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Deb retired from her elementary principal position within the State College Area School District, the couple began to consider a more profound way to give back to the arts at Penn State.
The result is the Debra and Stanley Latta Endowment for the Performing Arts, which will offer financial support to engage local K-12 schoolchildren through active collaborations with the center.
“The Center has become such a large part of who we are. This is a unique opportunity to support the Center and expose children in our local schools to the arts and the endless possibilities that exist by engaging with the arts,” Deb Latta said. “This is our way of saying thank you to the arts at Penn State and hopefully encouraging others to support the arts in any way that they can.”
This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.
IMAGE: Deb and Stan Latta, front, join College of Arts and Architecture Dean Barbara O. Korner, top right; Center for the Performing Arts Director George Trudeau, center; and Robyn Krause-Hale, associate director of arts advancement, top left, to finalize the couple's Center for the Performing Arts endowment. Credit: Stephanie Swindle Thomas.