Community prepares to mark 1 year since Joe Paterno's death

mdawson@centredaily.comJanuary 22, 2013 

The likeness of Joe Paterno still greets patrons at Legends, a restaurant inside the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

A blue-colored billboard that proclaims "You can't cover up 61 years of success with honor" hangs over a parking lot by the CVS on Beaver Avenue. Bumper stickers reading "JVP" for his initials or "409" for the number of victories he had before the NCAA took them away are pasted to cars that hum down the streets here.

Paterno, the longtime coach who was fired amid the first days of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and died two months later still lives on in and around State College.

And people will gather Tuesday to remember him on the first anniversary of his death with a vigil in front of the downtown State College mural that is called "Inspiration."

Paterno died Jan. 22, 2012, from lung cancer complications. He was 85.

The days after his death were unlike anything State College or Penn State had ever seen. People, who came from all around, lined up for hours in the cold at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on campus to pay their last respects.

The legacy of Paterno has been tarnished because of the Sandusky scandal and questions about whether the head coach knew about the allegations against his longtime assistant.

But there are many who support Paterno, such as Stephanie Asalone, a 2005 graduate.

Asalone said her brother was a big Paterno fan and invited the coach to his high school graduation ceremony. Asalone addressed the invitation to the Lasch Football Building, but she didn’t expect anything to happen.

"A few weeks later, my brother got the invitation back with a handwritten, hand-signed message from Joe apologizing that they couldn't make it to the ceremony and wishing him the best of luck in the future," Asalone wrote in an email to the Centre Daily Times. "I am so glad we took the time to send him the invite, as it enabled us to make a connection with Joe that we’ll always remember and about which we will always smile.'

Deb Brubaker, of Selinsgrove, remembers a similar experience.

Her daughter, Ashley, has autism and is speech-impaired, Brubaker said, and the girl uses a speech-generating device and sign language to communicate.

"After receiving a letter I had written to Coach Paterno about my daughter and her love for the Lions, the coach agreed to meet with Ashley," Brubaker wrote. "He was kind, understanding, and spent a nice amount of time with her."

Her daughter taught Paterno how to sign 'I love you," and she has a picture to remember it.

Brubaker said her daughter took Paterno's death hard, and to get through the grieving process, she released balloons.

"She (and I) will be fans forever!" she wrote.

Paterno supporters later this week will rescreen the documentary "The Joe We Know" in the Baltimore area. The show is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Beth El Congregation in Randallstown, Md.

Franco Harris and Phil LaPorta are expected to attend.

For more information about the screening in the Baltimore area, go to http://tjwkmaryland.wordpress. com.

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