When coach Joe Paterno, the father of my hometown, died on Sunday, one of my classmates warned us not to read national news stories or comment boards. I heeded his advice and wrote my own.
The story I know is about Joe Paternos’ devotion to our community. Most newspaper reporter won’t understand this.
The majority of people in America do not grow up in a close-knit community like State College, so they wouldn’t know how to write about it. Fortunately, I was spared this cultural blankness. Joe Paterno’s love and nurturing of State College is a real story.
To love means to stay with. It means devotion. Paterno was clearly a man of devotion. He stayed in State College for 60 years: the same wife, the same town and the same university, despite better job offers. People who never experienced that kind of devotion could misunderstand the value of a man like Joe Paterno (or think he was a just a great football coach).
Those of us who were lucky enough to grow up in his reign benefited greatly. He added security to our town by being a good husband, father and coach. Most of our parents’ jobs revolved around the university. And the university revolved lucratively around his football program.
My classmates and I live spread out across the country now, but we are closer than most high school classes. His oldest daughter, Diana, is part of our class. A sense of community is part of our DNA; and that is a gift he might not even know he left us.
“I heard about his death from Lori Stocker on Sunday night,” I told my dad, a retired professor who recently had surgery for the same type of cancer Joe Paterno had.
“Oh, her dad owned the Chevrolet dealership in town,” my dad said.
“Bob Hudson wrote too. His dad taught in the education department,” I said.
I love talks like this with my dad about our town, our friends and our memories. He and Joe Paterno started at Penn State the same year.
Most people in this country grow up in transient communities. It is a tragic trend and, if it continues, America will lose a precious knowledge of love, devotion and community.
Fortunately, Joe Paterno did his part to ensure that the children of State College have that rare and sacred knowledge forever.
Lisa Herendeen, a 1981 graduate of State College Area High School, is a writer and therapist who lives in Woodside, Calif.