FROM BUSINESS TO PHILANTHROPY IN THE LOWCOUNTRY AND ABROAD
It only takes a few minutes of conversation with Jim Hooker to find yourself at ease — his voice is, as the saying goes, as smooth as Tennessee whiskey.
It was his voice that led him to Valparaiso University; by his junior year, he was the college radio station’s general manager and his career in commercial broadcasting was born.
But the decades of success that followed came from more than just smooth talking. Hooker said it took hard work, incredible mentors and a willingness to take risks to reach his full potential as the owner of a company that commanded 10 popular radio stations.
In 2000, his wife, Susan — an expert in scenario development — began to predict changes in radio broadcasting were imminent, and suggested it might be time to consider a change. After attending a conference about a new form of media on the horizon, internet radio, Hooker agreed with his wife’s assessment and sold his company and all his radio stations.
I can’t imagine a life without a greater purpose.
Retirement followed, along with a move to the Lowcountry, where the couple “did all the things that retired people do” in the Hilton Head Island area: build a house, buy a boat, play golf.
“By all measures, one would think I should be a pretty happy guy,” Hooker said. “And I was. But… .” He became restless. He wanted to use his skills to do something meaningful. As he described it to a Chicago friend of 35 years: “I’m really bored.”
His friend, the Rev. Dr. Rafael Malpica Padilla, had no problem finding a project that utilized many of Hooker’s skills: marketing and sales management, motivation, organizational development, and his interest in political science — his undergraduate major: “As executive director of the Global Mission Unit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, I turned to Jim and Susan over a decade ago to lead the efforts to raise funds for the building of affordable housing for Palestinians … in the Mount of Olives, East Jerusalem,” Padilla said.
The Hookers went overseas and raised more than $1 million, which led to gifts of an additional $7 million — enough money to complete the project. Along the way, Hooker met a number of fascinating people and learned a lot about the challenges facing Palestinians.
One of these people was the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, president of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, who enlisted Hooker’s help on the board of Bright Stars of Bethlehem.
“I came to know Jim as a dear friend who is politically aware and interested to know what is happening in the world at large,” Raheb said. “He doesn’t think of himself as a spectator, but wants to make a difference in the world. He wants to give back, promoting peace with justice, and giving young people a chance to reach their potentials. To achieve this, he is willing to invest his time, energy, knowledge and assets.”
Hooker is now the board chairman of Bright Stars of Bethlehem, a U.S.-based organization. It raises funds to support the educational work of Dar al-Kalima University College, offering advanced training in the arts, tourism and Palestinian cultural heritage.
“I can’t imagine a life without doing this,” Hooker said. “I can’t imagine a life without a greater purpose.”
Those who define retirement as “withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life” have never experienced retirement in the Lowcountry. Here, many people’s “Second Acts” are just as purposeful as their first — boosting the economy, supporting area nonprofit groups, generating creativity and enhancing quality of life for the community. This column captures their stories.