Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Once new to the scene, Ouwehands now lauded for classical music support

By Heather Longley

Pieter Ouwehand describes he and his wife Lida’s relocation from Europe to New Jersey in the late 1960s as an adventure and a change of scenery. They speak about the Netherlands, their birthplace, in terms of distance via bicycle.

“Well, that’s how we moved,” says Lida, referring to her homeland’s storied method of personal transport.

“No helmets,” Pieter says.

“That’s for sissies,” Lida adds with a chuckle and a wink.

They don’t ride their bikes as much as they’d like to these days. But because Pieter is retired and Lida works flexible hours as a freelance language translator, they have more time to get involved in the central Pennsylvania performing arts scene. It’s because of their dedication to and support of the arts that they were named the Center for the Performing Arts 2016 Distinguished Service Award designees.

Center Director George Trudeau describes the Ouwehands as faithful attendees.

“They have committed themselves to supporting the mission of the Center for the Performing Arts through their patronage, service, and financial support,” he says. “Through my personal interactions with Pieter and Lida over the years, I know that this comes from their hearts—that they have a passion for the center—and that this drives their keen interest in doing what they can to help.”

The Ouwehands say they enjoy the performing arts, especially the classical music events, but it wasn’t until moving to Centre County that they started to enjoy the arts.

The two studied at universities in cities known for their links to the creative world—Pieter in Delft (home to the world-famous ornate blue-and-white pottery and birthplace of painter Vermeer) and Lida in Leiden (known as the “City of Books,” famous for its poetry murals, and home to artist Rembrandt and Oscar-nominated actress Nina Foch). Higher education in Holland differs from the United States, according to the Ferguson Township couple. In the Netherlands, they say, colleges focus on science and engineering disciplines.

“You never had that opportunity that we have here, where you can enjoy students and faculty who do their thing (in the music and theatre scenes).”

Pieter Ouwehand

“You never had that opportunity that we have here, where you can enjoy students and faculty who do their thing (in the music and theatre scenes),” Pieter says.

Students interested in attending concerts, plays, and gallery events usually had to seek them out, unlike at Penn State, where the School of Theatre, School of Music, and Center for the Performing Arts market their events to the town-and-gown community. Some of Pieter’s family members enjoyed classical music, and he attended the occasional concert; Lida’s family, not so much.

Pieter’s career with Merck & Co. Inc. moved his family from New Jersey to Puerto Rico, where they lived for seventeen years, then back to New Jersey. When he retired in 1993, he wanted to go where the town-and-gown action was and sought a new hometown based on what he and Lida enjoyed about their daughters’ college-town experiences in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“We like university towns,” Pieter says. “We did a little bit of checking, and we wound up at Penn State hoping for a big university, for what turned out to be the reality of all these activities.”

Now they are regular attendees of performances presented by Penn State’s School of Music, Music at Penn’s Woods, Nittany Valley Symphony, the Center for the Performing Arts, and its companion Classical Coffeehouse series.

The Ouwehands say they particularly enjoy the intimacy of the coffeehouse programs that feature string ensembles such as Sybarite5 and Brooklyn Rider, both of which had residencies at Penn State in the last year.

“The artists who do (the coffeehouse events), they are the people who tend to be a little more extrovert. ... It’s not the group or the soloist who flies in at 3 p.m. and takes the last flight out and goes home,” Pieter says. “It’s a wonderful event. We love it.”

The couple recently designated an IRA qualified charitable distribution as a means to immediately support to fund classical music programs and activities, such as Classical Coffeehouse. They also fund trustee scholarships in Penn State’s School of Music and engineering and liberal arts colleges.

Penn State School of Music Director Sue Haug says the Ouwehands’ attendance at recitals and events is an asset.

“Pieter and Lida are very special people who enjoy connecting with students,” she says. “They attend many classical music concerts and bring their friends, and that is perhaps the best gift to our community—to have enthusiastic audiences who share the joy with others.”

Pieter adds that he and Lida enjoy mingling with people who also enjoy classical music ensembles, and they welcome twists on classical standards.

“You get the younger musicians (such as Sybarite5 and Brooklyn Rider). They all have basic music education and classical, for that matter. We have seen more and more of these groups coming in to campus to perform,” he says. “That has been a very positive experience for us.”

Heather Longley is a communications specialist at the Center for the Performing Arts.