Laurie Zierer has not called Hollidaysburg home for more than three decades, but the Philadelphia resident has a soft spot for Blair County.
Zierer, a 1981 graduate of Hollidaysburg Area High School, was recently named executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization that provides more than 500 programs and grants to various organizations across the state.
"I might live in Philadelphia, but my heart is still in my small town of Hollidaysburg at the Diamond," says Zierer.
Zierer has worked for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council in Philadelphia for 17 years and has consistently advocated for Blair County. Most recently she helped to launch the new PNC television "Humanities on the Road" program, which included the Mishler Theatre and the Altoona Symphony Orchestra.
"We were thrilled when the Mishler Theatre and the Altoona Symphony were selected from numerous organizations statewide as venues and artists for the filming," said Ann Benzel, who served on the Pennsylvania Humanities Council board for six years. Benzel worked closely with Zierer on the "Humanities on the Road" project. "She not only successfully launched 'Humanities on the Road' but laid the groundwork for securing the necessary funding for the program."
Kate Shaffer, executive director of the Blair County Arts Foundation, also worked on the project with Zierer and said it was a wonderful project for the community.
Name: Laurie Zierer
Current home: Philadelphia
Position: Executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council
Education: Graduate of Hollidaysburg Area High School, 1981; bachelor's degree from Temple University, 1986; graduate degree in rhetoric and communications from Penn State University, 1994
Family: Husband George Tzanis; daughter, Zoe, 10
Interests: Reading, story writing and script writing with her daughter
"It was largely because of her that it was so successful," Shaffer said.
While producing "Humanities on the Road," Zierer said she became an "avid student" of television production.
As executive producer for the television series, she sought out artists, performers, folk singers and historians to share their gifts with communities across the state.
In Altoona's segment, Carl Middleman, a Philadelphia-based accomplished director, composer and conductor, performed with the Altoona Symphony Orchestra at the Mishler, which was then broadcast on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.
"It was an incredible opportunity not only for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to showcase the great work we do, but it was for me personally as well," Zierer said. "It was a wonderful chance to feature the Mishler Theatre and the Altoona Symphony Orchestra. Both have an important place in my heart and in my youth growing up in the area."
Zierer was born in Altoona, but moved to Hollidaysburg as a little girl and attended Hollidaysburg Area schools. While in school, she played in the orchestra and fell in love with reading, writing and history. In high school she was also involved in arts and theater.
She credits her high school history teacher Kathi Richardson with opening her mind to think about broader world issues.
"She prepared so many young people to really open their minds and to see how important their role and responsibility in changing the world was. She inspired us," Zierer said.
Having Richardson as a teacher also confirmed Zierer's desire to become a teacher. After graduating from high school, Zierer earned a bachelor's degree in literature with a certificate to teach English from Temple University in Philadelphia. Zierer met her future husband, George Tzanis, at Temple, although they didn't marry until years later. Zierer then stayed in Philadelphia to teach high school English in Haddonfield, N.J.
"It was a lot like Hollidaysburg," Zierer said.
After teaching for five years, Zierer headed to Penn State University to earn her master's degree in rhetoric and communications, which she completed in 1994. While at Penn State, she taught a communications course.
"I loved teaching so much I didn't want to leave, but I knew I wanted to go back to graduate school," Zierer said.
After graduate school, Zierer and Tzanis got married and they lived in Hershey while Tzanis attended medical school at the Penn State campus in Hershey. The couple later had a daughter, Zoe, who is now 10.
They later moved back to Philadelphia, where Zierer landed a job with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council as a program officer. Zierer moved up the ranks; her most recent position was assistant director, which led to her promotion as executive director.
"The board conducted a rigorous national search, and we found a jewel within our own organization. I look forward to working closely with Laurie in the coming years as the Pennsylvania Humanities Council continues to provide leadership for humanities programming with Pennsylvania," said Nancy Eaton, board chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.
As executive director, Zierer said she plans to expand programs and encourage Pennsylvanians to grow and engage in the humanities.
"I know the state, as well as the kind of programming we do so very well," Zierer said. "I'm an advocate for Pennsylvania. I really understand Pennsylvania and the interests and needs of everybody."