I grew up as a Penn Stater, even before I officially was one. Both my grandfathers graduated from Penn State, both in Agriculture. Even thought Grandpa Herman earned his living selling insurance, he created huge gardens and cultivated fruit trees on his plot of land outside Pittsburgh. Papaw Hueston made his fortune in the Pittsburgh steel industry, retiring to Florida where he cared for a grove of orange, grapefruit, and tangelo trees in the fruit grove surrounding his Indian River home. Their Penn State degrees served them well. They both followed and rooted for the Nittany Lions until the days they died, Grandpa Herman considered Rip Engle the best coach ever. To him, Joe Paterno was a mere upstart. My dad too was a proud Penn State graduate, earning both his undergrad and graduate degree from Penn State.
I remember walking to Beaver Stadium from our South Pugh Street home while still in high school. I distinctly recall dressing up (yes, people used to dress up for football games!) in a blue, wide-whale corduroy suit, one with a very short skirt. Walking home on University Drive, two college students invited my friend and me to a fraternity party. We didn't go, but we were pretty impressed with ourselves and had a good story to tell at State HIgh the following Monday. Our whole Herman family bought season tickets to Penn State football in the 80's; eventually, Jim and I took those tickets over. Our children and many permutations of family and friends from south central to northeastern Pennsylvania have used those tickets to root on decades of Penn State football.
Jim and I met in the dishroom at the HUB the winter of 1970. The following fall, my shift covered the time of the Penn State football team's training table. Those were the years of Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell. I watched them pass through the cafeteria line and cleaned their dinner trays. They were served steak, every night along with glass after glass of Penn State chocolate milk.
All our children have Penn State connections--Barbara and Robert both earned undergraduate degrees there, both graduating from the Schreyer Honors College. Later, Rob returned to earn his graduate degree from the College of Education, the same college where I earned mine. Matthew has worked for Penn State's athletic department for well over a decade now, washing towels and uniforms at both the Natatorium and the White Building. The Penn State Lion even came to his birthday party once! Penn State athletes have given him countless shirts, hats, and other Penn State Memorabilia. He possesses an official Penn State football jersey. If you have never seen one, they are actually rather odd, both in size and form.
Even our home, once owned by Rip Engle, the coach before Joe Paterno, has Penn State connections. When Joe first came here as an assistant coach to Rip Engle, he lived in our basement for a time. Now it is Jim's "Penn State room." Neighbors have suggested we nail a plaque on the side of home: "Joe Paterno slept here." Maybe we will.
We have so many Penn State stories as do thousands upon thousands of Penn Staters all across this country and this world. A signed, inscribed photo of Joe Paterno has hung in Matthew's bedroom since 1993, when it was given to him after he spent two weeks at Hershey Medical Center as the result of a tragic accident in his school's parking lot. It reads: "To Matt, We are thinking of you. Your friend, Joe Paterno." Joe knew something about having a child traumatically injured, and he and Sue have always been supportive of people with special needs. Jim and I have our own photo of us with JoePa, taken at Penn State Wilkes Barre years ago when we were all much younger.
Last night at the candlelight vigil in front of Old Main as the first strains of the Penn State Alma Mater wafted over the assembled crowd of students, alums, and members of the community, a very tall Penn State student standing in the cold on the snow alongside Jim, reached out his long arm to encircle my husband, a fellow (albeit much older) Penn Stater. Jim put his other arm around me and the whole crowd, linked arm by arm swayed and sang in fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to making Penn State a better place.
Rest in peace, Joseph Vincent Paterno...rest in peace, good and faithful servant.