Dan Hawbaker on Philanthropy

Q&A with Dan Hawbaker

Excerpted from the Centre Daily Times – 24 November 2014

The Hawbaker name has been synonymous with construction in Centre County for more than 60 years, but Dan Hawbaker’s philanthropic efforts have earned him a new title — 2014 Renaissance Fund honoree.

Hawbaker was recognized in front of about 500 guests at the 38th annual Renaissance Fund dinner, which raised about $326,000 for Penn State scholarships, on Nov. 13. The fund has helped about 480 students this school year

Hawbaker’s gifts to Penn State have benefited Intercollegiate Athletics, the College of Engineering and Outreach and Cooperative Extension. He also contributed to the construction of the Bryce Jordan Center and has provided scholarships to support veterans attending Penn State’s World Campus. He has also spearheaded fundraising efforts for the construction of Schlow Centre Region Library and to support the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology.

What does being named the Renaissance Fund honoree mean to you?

It’s a humbling experience to be able to be recognized, but I think the more important thing is the mission of the Renaissance Fund. We were able to raise more than $300,000 to benefit students who perhaps would not be able to get an education otherwise. I was impressed by, and I don’t know the exact statistics, but I was impressed by how many students are first-time family members to get a college education.

So it’s more important to you that students benefited from the fund than you were named for this award?

I think that’s the mission. When you get down to the nitty gritty of it, that’s the mission of the Renaissance Fund. My recognition is secondary to the mission.

Have you become known more for your philanthropy now more than your business?

You know, what’s funny is if I wasn’t known in the community before, I am now. The picture on the Town and Gown (cover) got spread far and wide, and now every time I go someplace I’m running into a lot of thank yous. I never really set out to be a philanthropist, if you want to call me a philanthropist. There’s just a lot of opportunities to cover some needs that the community has had, and we’ve been really fortunate to be in a position to help.

How did you find out in August that you would be honored?

I have this friend, Mimi Coppersmith, and I don’t know if you know Mimi, but she has been leading up the Renaissance Fund dinner for many years, probably since its inception. My standing comment is that whenever Mimi calls me for breakfast, get your checkbook ready, because she’s doing something, whether it be for the Scouts or whether it be for this or that, and right now it’s the Pink Zone and various charitable things.

Mimi called me up and said we were going to have breakfast at the Waffle Shop, so I go to the Waffle Shop with Mimi, but it ended up at the table there were other people there. I asked everyone, “What’s this all about?” and they told me. I was really kind of taken back by the whole thing.

What inspired your philanthropy in the community?

I think we have a growing community here, and if there’s a way to help and enhance the community and if you have the wherewithal to make a contribution to the community, you have a responsibility to step forward and do something. That’s the way I approach it.

Did you have a role model growing up that instilled in you the virtue of giving back?

There have been a lot of people in this community that have been role models to me, because I grew up in the construction industry. One of the things about being in this business is that there are many things that need to be done, and people look at you as having resources that no one else has to be able to do things in the community, you know, like Little League baseball fields, building a parking lot for a facility. My son, four or five years ago, they had Little League fields in Halfmoon Township, and he spearheaded an effort there to get lights at that field so that they could have night games. We made contributions to that, and he got well recognized for that.

What fundraising efforts have been particularly important or close to you?

Probably the one that stands out is the Schlow Library. Before the library was operating it was the old post office that got turned over to the community to be used. My getting into that was sort of a corporate circumstance when I volunteered at Patton Township to be a part of what they call their ABC group and whatever committees I could serve on.

Tom Kurtz, who was the township manager at the time, appointed me to the library board. And, well, what the hell do I know about libraries? I started attending meetings, and pretty soon it became apparent to me that they were trying to figure out how to build a new library. Looking around to see what they had there was just so totally inadequate.

Due to the circumstances and my construction experience and perhaps because I had some leadership experience, I got involved in pushing that forward. Betsy Allen, who was the (library director) at the time, was just a star in making the needs known to us, and we went through the whole process with the architect, but we also had to get the consensus of six municipalities, which was a cat-herding experience. They had their various interests of how they wanted to see things happen, so we had to really diplomatically satisfy the various townships. Sometimes it was not a very pleasant experience, because they all had their various conflicting interests that we had to sort our way through.

We got past that and got down to how to build a library large enough to do what we wanted it to do. Part of that came when the borough stepped forth in terms of buying some land, in addition to what was already owned, to build a community-sized library. When we did all the fundraising, one piece of satisfaction came because we left that with a surplus condition. You know, there was no debt associated with the library. It was totally paid off.

What are your future plans within the community?

I’m continuing to work with the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology in Pleasant Gap. It’s what I’d call a junior trade school type thing that high school students can start in, in the 10th grade to acquire a skill that can make them walk out of there to go find a job, whether it be in the culinary side or a dental assistant or automotive skills or carpentry. The CPI is an opportunity for young people to get started in a direction that they don’t have to worry about where they’ll get their money for college. They can come out of there with skills marketable to employers.

The cost of education can leave you with a lot of debt, and I don’t think that’s a focus we’ve given enough consideration to, which is how do we avoid that trap of when a young person comes out of school with $50,000 in debt. That’s, oh my God, how do young people deal with that?

Why should other folks in local communities do their part in giving back?

There are a lot of people doing a lot of good things in this community to volunteer their time. I wouldn’t say I’m an exception to what’s happening within the community, because there’s a tremendous amount of people going forth to be volunteers for things, and you could sit here all day going down the list of things where people are giving of their time to make a better community.

To say that I’m singled out in volunteer work, no, there’s a plethora of people that commit their efforts in this community, and a lot of them don’t get the respect for the fact that they do it. I would say I guess I got singled out, because maybe our company is a little more recognizable, but there are a lot of people here that do a lot of good stuff for others.