UNIVERSITY PARK — The Penn State alma mater could be heard surrounding t he Suzanne Pohland Paterno Catholic Student Faith Center on Park Avenue on Wednesday evening.
Joe and Melissa Powers stood hand in hand as they swayed in the crisp air to the sound of an estimated 75 people who sang and gathered for the annual Joe Paterno vigil.
This year’s vigil was organized by Inspiration Way — a group of locals that organize community-based events that are meant to inspire others.
Others simply mingled with each other and told stories of their best memories of the late Penn State coach.
“He supported the fans as much as we supported him and that support won’t ever go away,” said former Penn State student Brett Starling.
It has been two years since his death, and Inspiration Way organizers reached out to the public via social media asking supporters to send a message they would like to see on an illuminated bag for the vigil.
Melinda Wright, executive director of Inspiration Way, said 409 bags were lit Wednesday night with those messages.
“It’s community acknowledgment for the man he was,” Wright said. “Being able to hold this is a way for this community to heal and think of the good he did despite some other things. The scandal won’t define what he was, what this community is or what Penn State will ever be.”
Blue and white bags with messages written on the outside were lit with a candle following a path toward the entrance to the center from Park Avenue.
Shari Hughes simply wrote “Thank you” on her bag, while other Paterno supporters had longer messages.
Dave Sage, 60, remembered his surprise 50th birthday when his wife teamed up with some players from the Penn State football team to get Paterno to sign a football for Sage.
On Wednesday, he drove more than 100 miles from the Shamokin area to attend the vigil.
“My pap and dad were big fans and it’s just in our blood,” Sage said. “It’s like meeting Mickey Mantle. There was something about him that tugs onto your soul.”
Last year, Inspiration Way held the first Paterno vigil on Hiester Street that attracted a couple hundred people. Wright said she decided to host the event at the Faith Center this year to bring awareness to the Catholic student center that was dedicated in September 2012.
Wright said after the vigil, people can either pick up their bags or it will be recycled. In the future, she said, a mosaic might be made incorporating all the messages from the bags.
Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.