Tri-State area residents share memories of 'JoePa'

January 22, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — When Penn State’s legendary former football coach Joe Paterno died Sunday, his life and legacy were remembered across the nation.

In the Tri-State area, some residents took time to reflect on college football’s winningest coach, noting he was more than just a football coach.

“He was a great guy,” said Bob Campbell of Fayetteville, Pa.

Campbell was a running back for the Nittany Lions from 1966-68, the first years the team was led by Paterno. He is a Brunswick, Md., middle school teacher who also coached at Frederick (Md.) High School and Gettysburg (Pa.) College.

Campbell said he was feeling sorrow and sadness on Sunday.

“If you go to his house, the door is always open. You could always talk to him. That’s what I’ll miss,” Campbell said.

Joe Paterno’s wife, Sue, tutored Campbell in her family’s home and served him meals there.

Campbell, who said Paterno influenced him to begin coaching, continued to talk to his former coach over the years, and last did so a year ago. He said Paterno always asked about his family and shared memories from the playing days.

“That’s a memory I’ll have forever of Joe, that he remembered stuff from years ago. He was as much family as he was football,” Campbell said.

Washington Township (Pa.) Manager Mike Christopher had fewer encounters with Paterno, but he vividly remembers the ones he did. In the spring of 1972, when Christopher was a Penn State freshman, the two men met briefly while walking across campus in Happy Valley.

“I said, ‘hello,’ and he said, ‘hello,’ and he shook my hand. ... I didn’t wash my hand for two weeks,” Christopher joked.

When Paterno visited Waynesboro in 1995 to dedicate the Charles A. “Rip” Engle Sports Complex behind the high school, he remembered that Christopher’s daughter, Niki, and her basketball teammate had mentioned they wanted a picture with him. Paterno called for the girls to join him in a photograph.

TJ Bard graduated from Greencastle-Antrim High School in 2009, enrolled at Penn State and became student body president in March 2011. He met Paterno several times through his post.

“He definitely had an incredible sense of humor. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time you met him or the 50th, he was always cracking jokes,” Bard said.

In a phone interview Sunday, Bard said the mood in State College, Pa., was sad and somber. Bard described Penn State’s recent scandal involving a former assistant football coach’s alleged sexual crimes against children as an earthquake with aftershocks.

“This was a really big one for the Penn State community,” Bard said of Paterno’s death. “It shook us again.”

Bard visited a statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium late Saturday and early Sunday, watching the number of items grow at the makeshift memorial. Waynesboro Borough Manager Lloyd Hamberger also visited that memorial Sunday.

Hamberger, who earned a graduate degree at Penn State, put his blue and white flag at half-staff in his own yard.

“It’s a sad time for every Penn Stater and frankly for Pennsylvania in general. That man meant a lot to the state,” Hamberger said.

At Always Ron’s Restaurant & Catering Sunday afternoon, where Baltimore Ravens fans were watching the Ravens AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, Matt Lecrone was thinking about the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal that brought down Paterno.

 The scandal resulted in criminal charges against two administrators, and the ouster of former university president Graham Spanier and Paterno.

Lecrone talked about how taking something deeply loved away from someone can affect him or her deeply, to the point of death.

“It’s hard,” said Lecrone, thinking back on the circumstances surrounding Paterno.

But Lecrone said Paterno’s legacy will live on, especially given his long coaching record.

Paterno’s record stands in stark contrast to today’s football, where coaches often can’t survive on a team more than a few seasons if they don’t have a winning record, Lecrone said.

“My heart breaks for that family,” said Hagerstown resident Jess Horn, who was sitting with Lecrone.

“It’s a shame he had to pass on the way he did, in the midst of things,” said Hagerstown resident Brian Hadley, who was also watching the Ravens game at Always Ron’s.

— Staff Writer Dave McMillion contributed to this story.

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