Arn Hoffman, Penn State alumnus and philanthropist, passes away

Penn State alumni leader and philanthropist Arnold "Arn" Hoffman. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. Penn State is mourning the loss of one of its most loyal alumni leaders and philanthropists, Arnold “Arn” Hoffman, who died on Aug. 4 in Sarasota, Florida, less than one month shy of his 86th birthday. Services for Hoffman were held on Aug. 8 at the West Laurel Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

Hoffman was born Sept. 2, 1935, in Philadelphia, graduated from Philadelphia Central High School, and received his bachelor’s degree in journalism (then a program in the College of the Liberal Arts) from Penn State in 1957. While a student, he served as an advertising manager for the Daily Collegian; was on the staff of the Penn State Froth humor magazine; and was a member of Beta Sigma Rho, Parmi Nous and the Interfraternity Council. It was also there that Hoffman met his future wife, Bette (Gichner) Hoffman, who graduated in 1958 with a degree in home economics, and who survives. The couple married in 1959.

“Molly and I send our deepest condolences on behalf of the Penn State community to Bette and Arn’s many family members and friends,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “Arn brought his enthusiasm, leadership, intelligence and incredible work ethic to everything he did — especially his many volunteer roles at Penn State. He was a generous and inspiring individual who we will all miss greatly.”

Strong leadership instincts and attention to detail always served Hoffman well in the business world — even before he graduated from Penn State. While working in a men’s clothing store in Philadelphia in the summer of 1956, Hoffman helped a customer buy a tie after another salesman refused to deal with such a small purchase; that customer turned out to be the head of student recruitment for Westinghouse Electric, who offered him a permanent position on the spot. Hoffman accepted the offer and reported to Westinghouse’s Graduate Training Center in Pittsburgh two days after graduation — thus embarking on a nearly 50-year career with Westinghouse, Union Corporation, Financo, Shearson Lehman Brothers and finally Legg Mason Wood Walker, from which he retired as senior managing director in 2006.

Hoffman was well respected and actively engaged in the communities in which he lived, as evidenced by his past involvement on the boards and executive committees of organizations such as the Abramson Center for Jewish Living, Jewish Federation of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Jewish Archives, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Florida West Coast Symphony.

At his alma mater, some of Hoffman’s numerous activities included serving as a presidential counselor, chairing the Penn State Hillel Campaign, and serving as a member and inaugural chair of the College of the Liberal Arts’ Development Council. He was also an active alumni leader during four of Penn State’s capital campaigns, including but not limited to tenures as a member of the National Development Council, and as a member of the executive committee and chair of the Philadelphia Regional Committee for the “Grand Destiny” campaign. Arn and Bette also gave generously of their time by hosting alumni in their homes and by meeting with faculty and countless students here on campus.

The Hoffmans have also been two of Penn State’s most generous benefactors, having made contributions to a variety of programs and undertakings including the Bryce Jordan Center, the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, the Hintz Family Alumni Center, the Renaissance Scholarship Fund and the College of Health and Human Development.

In the College of the Liberal Arts, the couple established a professorship in sociology, supported a director’s fund in the Jewish Studies program, a fund supporting graduate students in honor of former Dean Susan Welch and several undergraduate scholarships. In 2012, the Hoffmans made a $2 million estate commitment to endow the directorship of the Penn State Child Study Center; in 2019, they added $1 million to that commitment in order to endow the center, which will one day be named the Arnold S. and Bette G. Hoffman Child Study Center. Located in the college’s Department of Psychology, the Child Study Center is lauded nationwide for its integrated research, education and community outreach devoted to children’s development and well-being.

“Our college mourns as we think about Arn’s loss and the legacy he leaves behind,” noted Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts. “He and Bette were among the first alumni to welcome my family and me to Penn State when we arrived in July 2019, and as a new dean I found him readily available and generously attentive on a few occasions when I sought his advice. While the impact he had on the College of the Liberal Arts and Penn State will last for generations to come, it’s impossible to overstate how much he will be missed.”

In the College of Arts and Architecture, the Hoffmans’ gifts to the Palmer Museum of Art exceed $2 million and have significantly advanced the museum’s ability to exhibit, care for and interpret an impressive and growing collection of contemporary studio glass by a roster of international artists. In 2016, the couple promised their collection of contemporary studio glass to the Palmer and established the Arnold and Bette Hoffman Studio Art Glass Collection Endowment. Since then, the Hoffmans have gifted 74 works from their impressive collection to the Palmer, many of which are currently on view in the museum’s Tonkin Gallery on the first floor of the museum. In 2019, as part of Penn State’s campaign for the new Palmer Museum of Art at the Arboretum, the Hoffmans agreed to name the new studio glass gallery, a prominent space that will be dedicated to the exhibition of international studio glass from the museum’s permanent collection. The Bette Gichner Hoffman and Arnold S. Hoffman Gallery in the new Palmer is slated to open in 2023.

“The Palmer Museum of Art has lost one of its great champions and supporters,” said museum Director Erin Coe. “Arn Hoffman was instrumental in the establishment of the museum’s collection of international studio glass and provided the first endowment dedicated to its care and study. He and Bette were informed and passionate collectors who spent three decades building their stellar collection, which contains works by well-known figures in the studio glass movement, as well as many established and emerging international artists of the highest caliber.

“Arn was also an early advocate of the new Palmer, recognizing the critical need for additional space to present our fast-growing collections including studio glass. Arn and Bette’s most recent act of generosity was naming the studio glass gallery in the new museum. When it opens, the Hoffman Gallery will serve as an enduring testament to their legacy of giving and their love of studio glass,” Coe added.

In recent years, the Hoffmans have also made significant gifts to support Penn State’s top-tier Musical Theatre program in the College of Arts and Architecture, including several contributions to the school’s general scholarship fund. The program is ranked first in the commonwealth and seventh nationally out of all musical theater programs in higher education.

Penn State honored Hoffman as an Alumni Fellow in 1997 and as a Distinguished Alumnus in 2007. He was also invited to be the speaker for the College of the Liberal Arts’ 1999 commencement ceremony, which he proudly ranked among his greatest honors.

In addition to his wife, Hoffman is survived by four sons – Daniel, James, Jeffrey and Andrew – and 10 grandchildren – Henry, Edward, Sophie, Bailey, Jadon, Levi, Colby, Cooper, Vin and Ari. He was preceded in death by his grandson, Trevor.

Last Updated August 24, 2021