Joe Paterno’s life and impact recalled
The day after Joe Paterno died, students, residents, alumni and fans still were coming to grips with the loss of the iconic football coach and remembering what he meant to them.
“It’s strange to imagine Penn State without Joe Paterno,” Chris Zafonte, a sophomore from Whippany, N.J., said Monday. “The campus itself just feels so quiet today, like everyone is moving in slow motion.”
Paterno, the head coach at Penn State for nearly 46 years, died Sunday morning from complications of lung cancer. He was 85.
Paterno lead the Nittany Lions to two national championships and had a 409-136-3 career record as head coach. He was among the first three active coaches to be inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame, in 2007.
“It’s a loss,” said Doug Kifolo, 44, owner of Happy Valley Freeze. “But we should celebrate what he gave us.”
Most people wanted to remember Paterno for all that he did for the university and the football program, instead of the sexual abuse scandal that led the university’s board of trustees to dismiss him in November. He and his wife donated more than $4 million to the university’s library, College of Liberal Arts and spiritual center.
“When you think Penn State, you automatically think Joe Paterno and when you think Joe Paterno you just think of his football legacy and everything he’s given to the school,” said Tyler Gardner of Coalport.
But others said that unfortunately the scandal probably would follow Paterno for years.
“I am just waiting for the day when I will read an article about Joe Paterno without seeing the words ‘scandal,’ ‘Jerry Sandusky,’ or ‘tarnished legacy,’ though I fear I might not see that for a long time,” said Ghassan Saadé, a 1986 Penn State graduate.
“It is sad to think that such a legend could be tainted by one mistake,” said Lori Schneider of Bellefonte. “But I think that’s what makes Joe Paterno human. Honestly, for a while I thought he was superhuman.”
Some thought revelations of the child sexual abuse scandal contributed to Paterno’s death. Paterno was not charged in connection with the scandal allegedly involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, but Paterno said that in hindsight, “I wish I had done more.”
“We lost a legendary man…” said Megan Shadduck, a Health Policy Administration major from Wyomissing. “He gave so much to Penn State, and I truly believe he died of a broken heart.”
“I think the scandal exacerbated his illness,” senior Audrey Agyemang said. “He lost will to fight on. It was too stressful.”
Many people found the Paterno statue next to Beaver Stadium the best place to remember the coach. The statue was turned into an informal shrine Saturday night and many people continued to pay their respects there Monday.
“When I heard the news I went straight to the statue,” said Josh Narnagai, a senior from Nicholson. “I never met him, but he still impacted my Penn State life.”
“He is the only coach I have ever known,” said Earl Shawly, 54, of Bellefonte who stopped by the statue Monday. “There will never be another one like Joe.”
Some people wanted to remember meeting Paterno, if only briefly.
Sarah Patrick, who works at Barefoot Shoes downtown, was opening the store one morning last spring and Paterno was walking down the street.
“He said good morning to me,” she said. “It was really cool.”
Jessi Pierson, a biology major from Warren, said she and her roommate were running along Park Avenue one day when they saw Paterno.
“We stopped to talk to him and he said ‘I would run with you girls but my knees are not feeling up to it today,’” she recalled. “We said we would walk with him and so we did. It was only for ten minutes but I will never forget it. And when we left he said ‘Keep up the good work.’”
Carol Grim of State College said her daughter played softball at a field located behind the Paterno’s home on McKee Street.
“Her team would lose every single game,” Grim said. “But one time, we saw Joe Paterno walking outside, and he waved to us.”
Grim told her daughter that it might be the team’s good luck charm and it was. The team went on to win the softball game and her daughter then wrote Paterno a letter, telling him what happened.
“And he wrote her back,” she said. “It was the greatest thing for her. We still have the letter.”
Many people said they would remember Paterno for the way he lived his life.
“He was a role model for me,” said senior Jason Albert.
“He was your ‘Average Joe,’” said Becky Scull, a manager at Old State Clothing downtown. “He was relatable. He was here for so long. . . . I think he really exemplified in his everyday life the basics are what’s important.”
Senior Sarah Monroe said “the world lost a really good man. My dad summed it up this morning on the phone, ‘He's the last of a breed. They don't make ‘em like that anymore.’”
Rachel Miller said she would never forget Paterno.
“I want to live out every day of my life trying to embody all of the qualities that he possessed,” said the junior from Danville, “someone who is honorable, modest and doing what I love to do every day of my life.”
This story was reported by students in Comm 462.