As the Joe Paterno statute disappeared into Beaver Stadium, freshly uprooted, Vincent Tedesco had a replacement handy.
Tedesco, a Penn State graduate and State College resident, sat nearby Sunday morning with a life-size cardboard cutout of the late football coach. He had heard early reports of the statue coming down, so he and his wife, Suzann, drove over to the Porter Road site.
By the time they got there, workers who arrived at dawn had already fenced off the bronze statue and shielded it from view with blue tarps. Like others, barriers kept the Tedescos from the fence.
So he set up his own monument near the stadium.
“We are going to try to make this permanent,” the decorated Vietnam War veteran and recent candidate for the board of trustees said. “I’m going to be out here as long as I can be out here. I’m hoping to get enough people interested that we start pulling shifts. Right now, it’s just peaceful protest.”
He and other Paterno supporters criticized Penn State for the statue’s early morning removal, saying the university did it in haste and secrecy and that it disregarded the coach’s decades of service, teaching and philanthropy.
“Nothing can take away the memory of all he has done for the university,” said Susan Lamey, of State College.
Many defended Paterno’s legacy and character even as they acknowledged that he may have erred in the university’s 2001 response to a report of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in a football building shower with a young boy.
Sandusky last month was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing boys he met through his charity, The Second Mile. He is in jail waiting to be sentenced.
Recently, former FBI director Louis Freeh issued a report that concluded Paterno and other top university administrators orchestrated a cover-up in 2001 to prevent bad publicity. The Paterno family disputes Freeh’s findings.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson on Sunday said the statue had become a “lightning rod of controversy” and that removing it would be in the best interest of the university, public safety and for child abuse victims, for whom it would be a “recurring wound.”
Bystanders on Sunday weren’t as sure Penn State acted wisely.
“I just think it’s so sad for Penn State,” said Rebecca Hazenstab, an alumna from Duncansville, who came to State College with her husband Sunday to see the statue for the last time.
“I never thought it would happen. I don’t know why they made quick decisions. I wish they would just wait.”
Some thought the university caved into public and media pressure. Erickson recently said a decision was expected closer to the end of the month.
But calls for the statue’s removal, especially from national pundits, increased last week — symbolized perhaps by an Ohio-based plane flying over State College for three days with a banner demanding Penn State take down the monument.
Penn State student Kevin Berkon, of Washington, D.C., said he did not like how the university scheduled the removal for when most residents and students would be asleep.
“JoePa means the world to a lot of students and they should have a right to be here,” Berkon said. “I’m extremely disappointed in my university’s president, in the trustees. ... This is not what (Paterno) deserved. I think everyone rushed to conclusions.”
Charlie and Terry Kaufman, of Cochranville, were in town for a Harley-Davidson rally and rode their motorcycles over. Both shook their heads at the sight of the covered statue being removed with jackhammers and hoisted free by a forklift.
“I think this is despicable,” said Terry Kaufman, who earned a graduate degree at Penn State before working for four years at the university. “Everybody is knee-jerking. ... It’s a shame that after 61 years of service, they bring him down.”
Added her husband: “There are no winners here. Everybody loses.”
Mary Trometter, of Williamsport, wore a “Let’s go State” shirt. She said her son is going to Penn State in the fall.
“Penn State was his first choice and he’s kind of sad that the statue’s not going to be there,” she said. “Because there is more to Joe Paterno than football, and people know that.”
Mike Daversa said when he was a Penn State student, he and his friends liked visiting the statue, “hanging out with JoePa.” Sunday, he drove up from Altoona to see it, unaware the end was near.
“They said seven to 10 days and we are on the way down here, and they were talking about having to barricade it off and we didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “As soon as we got out of the truck, we heard the jackhammers going off and my heart just dropped.
“I really think it was wrong of them to do it on a Sunday. They should have given a two-week notice so we can all pay our last respects to him. I hope (the statue) goes to the Paterno library, I really do.”
Erickson said Sunday only that the statue will go to a “secure location.” He said he wants the library to remain Paterno Library to honor Joe and Sue Paterno and their donations and contributions to the university.
Meanwhile, Tedesco plans to display a 30-year-old cutout figure that followed him in his Army career to Germany and Korea — one man’s protest against his alma mater.
“I was surprised they did it this way,” he said. “I thought with all this discussion of openness that we have heard from this university that they would have had the guts to make a public announcement and say why.”