On Sunday, January 22nd, legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno passed away at the age of 85. Many in the college football world would point to the success he had on the football field, guiding the Nittany Lions for 46 years, the 2 National Championships, the 5 Coach of the Year Awards, being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, etc. Indeed, this is a part of the accomplishments JoePa had at Penn State, but he and his wife Sue gave back so much more to the University that he loved.
Before I go into more depth, here's something that Packers fans can appreciate. Way back in the 1940s, Joe and his brother George attended Brooklyn Prep High School, and were both star players on the football team. It just so happens, their big rival was St. Cecilia School in Englewood, NJ, which was coached by none other than a young Vince Lombardi. Yes, two coaching greats crossed paths on the football field.
No less, in the 60 years that JoePa spent at Penn State, he was a shining example of how one should give back to a school and students that he loved. He made contributions to build the Paterno Library wing onto Pattee Library in the middle of campus. He made sure that the players on his team had their priorities straight in that you are at Penn State to get an education first and foremost, which meant the ultimate goal is to get a degree. This is why there was several dozen Academic All-Americans, more players that went on to become doctors, lawyers, policemen, fire fighters versus turning pro in the NFL. Not to say there weren't some greats from Penn State that left their mark in the NFL. The list of those PSU grads who succeeded in the NFL is certainly remarkable.
In the last few years, the Paternos established the Paterno Fellowship in the College of Liberal Arts. This is allowing students to apply themselves to become honors students through hard work in the classroom, community service and outreach to great causes near and far. Also being built is a Catholic Spiritual Center just off campus, which as Sue Paterno has said, will be a place for students to find at least one place where they can feel comfortable in their Catholic faith. There are many other endowments, fundraisers, community projects and anonymous donations that Joe & Sue have made.
I don't have any personal stories of encountering JoePa on campus during my time at Penn State, but I have a number of friends that have inspiring stories. From the student in her last class before graduation getting a surprise phone message from JoePa for her to drop by his office to take a picture with him as a graduation gift from her mother, a friend striking up a conversation with JoePa on the local bus in town, to catching Joe at the Creamery, having a scoop of Peachy Paterno.
It is hard to point to just one thing as to how much Joe Paterno meant to the students and alumni of Penn State. The moving tributes to him in the wake of his death, including thousands of students lining the route from his funeral on campus to the last turn down Atherton St. off campus, and the many stories told at the memorial held the day after at the Bryce Jordan Center. A full recap of all of these events and much more can be found in the Daily Collegian Penn State Student Newspaper.
God Bless you Joe Paterno! We should all strive to do what Joe's father Angelo told him when he decided to be a football coach instead of a lawyer. "Make an impact." As it was mentioned at JoePa's memorial, you have won Joe, now it's up to us to carry it on into the future.
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