Tributes pour in for former Penn State coach Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno at a rally in 2008.
Joe Paterno at a rally in 2008. Mark Johnston/Centre Daily Times/MCT

UNIVERSITY PARK — Haley Way clutched her bouquet in the cold rain, looking for the right spot for her tribute to a revered icon.

She finally found it on the edge of mementos encircling the Joe Paterno statue beside Beaver Stadium. Crouching, she carefully placed the blue and white flowers on the sidewalk, then hugged her father’s legs.

Haley, 5, joined the stream of people visiting the statue on a gloomy Monday to pay their respects to the legendary Penn State football coach. Paterno, who coached the Nittany Lions for 62 years, died Sunday morning at 85 from lung cancer.

Elsewhere, Penn State and State College Area High School students expressed their condolences by wearing white during orchestrated “white outs” in honor of Paterno. In the morning, artist Michael Pilato painted a halo above Paterno’s head in his famous mural of notable locals on Hiester Street in downtown State College.

Across campus and the state, as ordered by Gov. Tom Corbett, flags flew at half-staff.

Haley’s part in the day of mourning began in her State College home with her parents telling her about Paterno.

“What a great character he was,” said Tammy Way. “That’s what I want her to grow up knowing.”

Wayne Way, who went to graduate school at Penn State, said his family braved the weather to remember “a great coach, a great man.” Holding his daughter after she added to the memorial, he said Paterno’s legacy will be his “loyalty to the university, and setting an example for young men.”

Nearby, as others took photos or posed for ones, Sam Markle gazed at the statue bedecked in a blue and white scarf and white hoodie draped across bronze shoulders. A 1957 graduate from Pleasant Gap, he saw Paterno’s glory years up close as a Beaver Stadium usher for 50 years.

But he’ll remember Paterno for more than winning the most games ever.

“I liked what he stood for — a tremendous, great fellow,” Markle said.

Debra Shelow, at Penn State librarian from Bellefonte, pointed out the Paterno quote inscribed behind the statue: “They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”

“What’s on that wall is what Joe was,” she said.

Paterno and his wife, Sue, donated millions to building Paterno Library, an expansion of Pattee Library, while raising almost $14 million for the project.

Across campus Monday, students responded to a Facebook invitation to wear white for the man who, to many, represented Penn State.

“Wearing a white shirt, it’s the least thing we can do, considering how much he loved all of us and the university,” said Haley Luvison, a freshman from Sayre.

Luvison said she knew little about Paterno when she first arrived.

“But as soon as you get here, you realize how much he meant to the university, how much good he did,” she said.

Freshman Will Leonard, of DuBois, donned a white Nittany Lions jersey.

“He brought a sense of family to the entire university,” Leonard said. “He made it a place people wanted to be and everybody could be proud of.”

Gary Marmo didn’t know about the white out, but wore a white “Thanks, Joe” shirt over a sweatshirt “out of respect” for Paterno.

“I don’t feel one wrongdoing should erase a lifetime of good,” the junior said, referring to Paterno’s supposed failure to do more to report the possible sexual assault of a boy in a football building. The controversial charge prompted the university trustees last November to remove Paterno from his position.

Mike Webster, a university library computer technician, wore the same T-shirt after learning about the white out from his wife. Paterno’s sense of duty, honor and pride had appealed to him since childhood, he said.

“I’ve always been a fan of Joe Paterno,” he said. “It seemed appropriate.”

At State College Area High School, senior Megan Jones created a Facebook page encouraging her classmates to wear white Monday, and she said a good majority did.

She said the effort showed support for Paterno and what he stood for — being a mentor and showing kindness and compassion.

“He was a big part of the community, and he was a big part of holding it together,” she said.

Michael Pilato, in his 40s, went to school with Paterno’s children; his family and the Paternos attended church together. He usually adds halos over his mural figures after they die, but his special admiration for Paterno merited a quicker response than usual.

“It was a very spiritual, moving thing,” Pilato said. “It was a kind of healing for me.”

(CDT staff writer Anne Danahy contributed to this report.)

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