Lattas’ loved and learned experiences inspire decision to support center
She is a lifelong dancer and ally to the arts, and he is an admitted sports junkie with no real prior arts experience. The couple, who met while students at Penn State, watched incidental lifestyle differences move to common ground in the early days of their relationship. It was their own growth, witnessed and acted upon, that inspired the Center for the Performing Arts 2020 Distinguished Service Award recipients.
“I could not be more thrilled to see Stan and Deb Latta receive this well-deserved recognition. The arc of their experience of discovery and engagement with the performing arts is inspirational,” says George Trudeau, the center’s director. “Through their long association and participation with the center, they continue to encourage creating opportunities for all to connect with the performing arts.”
Deb practiced dance in some form most of her life — in talent shows and dance recitals growing up, as choreographer and president of Penn State’s Orchesis dance company, and as a teacher of aerobic dance at the State College YMCA. Stan was an outdoor buff and soccer player throughout high school and college, and later a referee for the sport on the high school and college levels.
“Well, we didn’t start off well. Our first performance to view as a couple was forty years ago, and we left after the first act,” Deb recalls. (The act? A one-man to-do about Shakespeare.)
Despite the abbreviated theatre visit, Deb “continued to drag him to my Orchesis college productions,” which led to becoming regular ticket buyers to Center for the Performing Arts presentations.
Whereas Deb was able to slowly introduce Stan to her world of dance arts, he says over time he realized his own interests intersected in the like components— the “movement, flexibility, interpretation, and agility.”
“More and more athletic teams are using yoga and dance as a way of helping their athletes become stronger, more flexible, and better able to anticipate, which improves their abilities in their respective sport,” he says.
The connection Stan made between key aspects of the performing arts and athletic foundations gave him a deeper appreciation of the unfamiliar and influenced his work while director of Union and Student Activities at Penn State.
“Because I had developed a better understanding for how the visual arts can influence a student’s personal development, we were able to devote significant space in the renovation of the HUB for the visual arts,” he says, referring to the Art on the Move cases and other dedicated art spaces in the HUB-Robeson Center at University Park.
Reflecting on his personal relationship with the arts, Stan says, “There are stories and interpretations that I can appreciate or relate to in my own life experiences. I never fully appreciated that aspect of the arts until Deb challenged me to not just look at a performance or piece of art, but rather ask what message the artist is trying to relate.”
One can become an advocate and patron of the arts at any age, as Deb saw with her husband. As an educator and six-year volunteer with the Center for the Performing Arts Community Advisory Council, she says she has also witnessed the impact of the arts in her career.
“As a former elementary school principal, very few students came to school with an appreciation of art, dance, music, photography, etc.,” she says. “That was one of the most positive aspects of my job: to watch with delight as our specials teachers would encourage art, library, drama, and music, then observing how quickly and excitedly the children took to it.”
In addition to the myriad performing arts organizations and opportunities that exist in State College for young people, the Center for the Performing Arts offers its own chances for children to experience the performing arts, including all-ages events, School-Time Matinees, pre-performance Kids Connections, and in-school artist visits.
“Kids never forget those first experiences and, many times, it might help to shape some of their life goals later in life,” Deb says.
It’s the culmination of the Lattas’ experiences that influenced them to become Center for the Performing Arts members and sponsors. In 2019, the couple created the Debra Lee Latta and Dr. Stanley E. Latta Endowment, which will help to financially support the center’s efforts in using the performing arts to engage local K–12 students.
Deb also knows firsthand that you can’t force someone to eat, breathe, and sleep the arts. But early and sustained exposure to some form of creative expression can instill an appreciation for the unfamiliar.
“In my husband’s case, it really didn’t click for him how important the arts were until we shared some experiences and activities together,” she says. “It’s important to try to foster that appreciation.”
2020 Distinguished Award recipients
- former member of Community Advisory Council, including as chair of the council’s community relations committee
- retired as principal of the State College Area High School’s South Building and the Mount Nittany Elementary School
- chair of the Soccer Rules Committee (National Federation of State High School Associations)
- retired as former Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs at Penn State
- Stan Latta Dedication Scholarship
- Debra Lee Latta and Dr. Stanley E. Latta Endowment
Center for the Performing Arts co-commissions
- Cirque Éloize’s Cirkopolis (2013)
- Cirque Éloize’s Saloon (2016)
Center sponsorships (with Deb as part of Passionate Supporters of Dance)
- Moscow Festival Ballet (2016)
- Pilobolus’ Shadowland (2016)
- Che Malambo (2018)
- Urban Bush Women (2019)
Center sponsorships (through the Latta endowment)
- Dance Theatre of Harlem (2019)
Heather Longley is a communication specialist at the Center for the Performing Arts.