Joe Paterno was more than a football coach and an athletic legend. Joe was a great philanthropist, he and his wife Sue (often referred to as SuePa) valued Penn State University as a fine academic institution and raised more than $13 million dollars to expand the library now known as Patee and Paterno library. (Patee was the writer of Penn State’s alma mater). Joe also led his football players into academic excellence graduating 80% of his players in 4 years (the highest graduation record among college football programs). Joe supported Penn State’s Dance Marathon quoting “I wish the whole world could see and feel what is in this room right now…I’ve been here for 58 years at Penn State and I’ve never been more proud, than I am right now.”
I had the great pleasure of meeting Coach Paterno my senior year at a dinner honoring money donors to the University. As Joe made his ‘rounds’ to the tables to thank everyone, he approached my table. I stood and said how excited I was to meet him. He smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Thank you sweetheart”, but my favorite part was what followed. An older gentleman (he was in his 70’s) stood up next to me and said “Hey Joe, how about you put me on your defensive line!” Joe laughed and responded, “Sit the hell down! You’re too damn old!” And they laughed together as he continued to move through the crowd.
As with many Penn Staters, Joe and his family are apart of not just one memory, but thousands. He helped the young to respect tradition (when so many at that age only want to rebel against it), he taught his fans and players “Success with Honor” that I can only hope will be continued on and off the field at Penn State.
Rest in Peace Joe Paterno, you were more than a football coach, you made Penn State a better place.