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Sharing Asian culture and knowledge

Working at the United Nations in the years right after World War II, Helen Lang remembers being impressed by the selection of books on China at the China Institute in New York City. For Lang, the daughter of Chinese immigrants from Canton (now Guangzhou), it sparked a lifelong dream to establish a similar institute to promote cultural understanding of Asian heritage.

Working at the United Nations in the years right after World War II, Helen Lang remembers being impressed by the selection of books on China at the China Institute in New York City. 

For Lang, the daughter of Chinese immigrants from Canton (now Guangzhou), it sparked a lifelong dream to establish a similar institute to promote cultural understanding of Asian heritage.

The idea stayed in the back of her mind for years after she and her late husband, Calvin Lang, moved to Louisville in 1959 with their four young children. He joined the faculty of the UofL School of Medicine and, for four decades, was a renowned biochemistry researcher and teacher.

Calvin and Helen LangIn 1987, after the children were grown, she started Crane House, The China Institute, Inc., now Crane House, The Asia Institute Inc., on Third Street in Old Louisville. 

From cooking classes to business courses, lectures to cultural events, Crane House works with many institutions throughout the area, including UofL and the public school system, to promote pan-Asian culture to children and adults. Today it is the region’s premier Asian hub facilitating cultural understanding, diversity and education.

Thousands of people every year participate in Crane House’s nearly 300 sponsored programs. In 2005, Helen received the first Mayor’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her efforts in bringing an awareness of Asian culture to Louisville through Crane House. 

Building on that success, she had a further vision: to cultivate an interest among area young people to pursue Asian studies in college.

Using as seed money a bequest from Calvin Lang to UofL, Helen Lang recently has contributed additional funds to found the Calvin and Helen Lang Distinguished Visiting Professorship in Asian Studies based in the UofL College of Arts and Sciences. This position will enable the University to bring outstanding scholars to Louisville to share Asian culture and knowledge in an academic environment.

The first visiting professor supported by the endowment will be on campus in 2010–2011. 

“In this smaller and more inter-dependent world, there is no more important region than Asia,” Blaine Hudson, dean of arts and sciences, says. “The Calvin and Helen Lang Professorship in Asian Studies will enable us to bring recognized experts in Asian history, culture, politics and economics to our campus for some part of each year. These visiting professors will not only enrich our curriculum but will serve as an important resource to the surrounding community.”

The professorship also ties in nicely with programs that are already in place at UofL, Lang says. “And as interest grows in Asian culture, my hope is that we can eventually establish a major in Asian Studies here at U of L,” she says.

In addition to pairing with Crane House in various efforts, UofL offers instruction in Chinese language, a minor in Asian Studies, and the Center for Asian Democracy.

The bequest and professorship stand as a testament to Calvin Lang, who died in 2008. “Our community efforts started in the spirit of family,” Helen Lang says. “We’ve always done everything as a family, whether it be participating in and supporting musical and other cultural efforts, sports or anything else.”

The ultimate goal of the Lang’s efforts, she says, is to make the world better for all. “I think we all, as people, need to know each other better. We’re in a global economy and I am a strong believer in world peace. Without understanding, we will never have world peace.”

With Crane House and other efforts, Lang wants to build on quality programs that set a good example and expose young people to the wider world. “My dream is to have people in the greater Louisville region be introduced to Asia through Crane House, and that appetite further nourished by study at UofL with a degree in Asian Studies.”

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