Students capture last images with Paterno statue

State College - Centre Daily TimesJuly 23, 2012 

072312Statue105

Penn State seniors Mike Elliot and Kevin Berkon embrace the Joe Paterno statue before being told to cross the street and clear the area shortly after 6 am on Sunday, July 22, 2012. They were the last to have their photo taken with the statue before crews removed it. Abby Drey

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UNIVERSITY PARK — Stephen Sywy didn’t wait around to listen to the jackhammers.

Sywy didn’t watch the forklift, outfitted with yellow tie-down straps, tug upward through a plume of white, chalky dust, and lift the 11-year-old, 900-pound Joe Paterno statue from its perch next to Beaver Stadium.

The Penn State senior had been there before the blue tarps went up over the fences to shield onlookers from the statue’s removal. Sywy, like thousands before him — hundreds who made special visits to the Paterno statue in the days leading up to its removal — had his picture taken with the monument.

Sywy has a distinction over the rest, however.

He was one of the last three people to pose with the bronze bust of Paterno at its original location.
“I guess it’s historic,” Sywy said. “Me being one day an alumnus and having the last photo (with the statue).”

The other two, Penn State seniors Kevin Berkon and Mike Elliott, earned their spot for the statue’s final moments by camping outside Beaver Stadium for days.

Berkon and Elliott, in a show of support for Paterno, said they wouldn’t leave the statue’s side until its future was decided.

Sywy, a Penn State senior from Pittsburgh, arrived on Porter Road around 5 a.m. after he was tipped off by a friend of a friend that the statue could be coming down. He sat on the curb on the opposite side of the street as a handful of his classmates huddled around the statue one last time. A few minutes after 6 a.m., an unmarked police cruiser pulled up close enough to the statue to allow the officer behind the wheel to snap a quick cellphone picture. Sywy walked up next and stood, arms at his sides next to the statue.

His friend, Penn State graduate Samantha Hulings, took the picture.

Sywy chose his words carefully and spoke in measured tones after campus police told those who remained around the statue to step back as a work crew began to assemble the makeshift fence.
“Personally I don’t think it should come down,” Sywy said. “But I think it’s for the best for the school to get the whole world off of our university.”

Travis Johnson can be reached 231-4629. Matt Carroll contributed to this report.

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