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03

I am not a Penn State grad.
I have never attended Penn State University.
I have never done business with Joe Paterno or Penn State in any fashion.

But I love the man.
Have, in fact, loved him for 44 years.

My father died when I was two, and my mom had no interest in re-marrying because, as she put it, “I’m already married!” She provided for my brother and me, working hard to ensure we had everything we needed.

And she gave us bonus love.

When I was a teenager, singing in a rock and roll band, my mom was concerned about the lack of male influence in my life. She told me to find a role model, someone I could look up to. She said to pick that person, but choose wisely. She said, “Choose a person of high character. If you do, he will never let you down.” She said, ”Watch how he handles adversity and success, and emulate his behavior.” She also said, “If it turns out you made the wrong choice, you can learn from that, too.”

About that time I read an article in a magazine about a young coach at Penn State who had an idea for a “grand experiment.” He wanted to coach kids to be student athletes. He vowed to run a clean program, and promised to take a personal interest in his athletes’ academic life. He wanted to graduate–not football players–but citizens of the world.

I began following Joe, and over the years gained enormous respect for the life lessons he taught. Joe reinforced the lessons I’d learned from my mother about integrity, loyalty, generosity, commitment, and others. I highlighted many of those lessons in a book I wrote 30 years ago, “Qualities of Character.”

Over the years I watched Joe experience success and setbacks, and my mom was right, he never let me down. Joe is still coaching, feisty as ever, and still runs a squeaky-clean program and continues, year after year, to have one of the highest athlete graduation rates in the nation. He has personally donated more than $5 million to Penn State, and together with his wife, Sue, Joe has procured–get this–$1 BILLION in donations to his beloved university!

When I finally got a chance to meet Joe in person, I told him how he had positively impacted my life. I said, “In fact, you’re the second best role model a guy could have.”

He said, “Who’s the best?”
“My mom.”
“I’d like to meet her,” he said.
“She’s a hard core Red Sox fan,” I warned.
“I’m a Brooklyn Dodgers fan,” he said.
“Brooklyn?”
He laughed. “They shoulda stayed in Brooklyn.”

–Joe could probably tell you the last day the Dodgers played in Brooklyn: September 24, 1957, when they beat Pittsburgh 2-0.

“They shoulda stayed”? –Well, maybe so. Joe had tons of offers to coach elsewhere for more money. But he stayed at Penn State all these years anyway. He remained faithful to his school, just as my mom remained faithful to her deceased husband.

They say it takes all kinds to make a world, but I can’t help thinking what a much better world it would be if there were more people in it like Joe Paterno and my mom.

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Adam
Adam says:
As a Penn State alum and lifelong fan, I loved this
Katiesheadesign
Katiesheadesign says:
Wow I hope one day my children will speak of me with such profound respect and admiration!

Kathy D :)
ceebee308
ceebee308 says:
This post is a magnificent example of why I consider you to be a writer, John. :)
Jessica Subject
Jessica Subject says:
Very sweet John. :) You're mother sounds like a wise woman.
Beyond my Control
Beyond my Control says:
Wonderful post John, highlighting what we admire most about the people in our lives, true character.
Gary Ponzo
Gary Ponzo says:
Great post John. I heard Jimmy Cefalo tell a terrific story about going on a road trip to visit colleges which recruited him. He came home to find Joe Paterno sitting at his kitchen table while his proud Italian mother was busy preparing him a plate of pasta. Joe Paterno took one bite of her pasta and said, "Mrs. Cefalo I believe your Marinara Sauce is even better than Mrs Cappelletti's." (John Cappelletti was the 1973 Heisman Trophy winner & Penn State grad.)
Jimmy Cefalo said he knew right then he'd be going to Penn State.
Simplify the Complexity
Simplify the Complexity says:
Greetings from Indonesia. You are lucky to have such a wonderful mother and to have chosen Joe as your role model. I knew JoePa has something more than just "a coach." For him, it's more than just winning games.
Jersey Diva Mom
Jersey Diva Mom says:
What a great post-- a wonderful tribute to your amazing mom and to an awesome coach. As an alum, I am so proud that of our University's grad rate and that credit rests on his shoulders. When the team has faltered, and people are ready to run him out of State College into retirement, I have to laugh. Do they not get what an impact he has on the University and ALL students each day he is there? Between his personal philanthropy and all the donations that he has fostered, we Nittany Lions owe him a huge debt.

PS posted your link in its Facebook feed this AM. That's how I found you. As a fellow blogger, I hope the traffic is solid for you!

ps. sorry for dupe post- caught rotten typo too late : )
SRA
SRA says:
I also came here as a result of being a fan of PSU on Facebook & their having posted your blog on their page this AM.

A lot of people who aren't PSU grads don't understand why Joe has basically achieved godlike status to many alums. You are one of the few who appears to have that understanding. Thank you.
Luanne
Luanne says:
WOW - what a tribute to a great man and your Mom. I have two children who are PSU alum and we share your love of Joe Pa.
James
James says:
I have watched and followed Joe for 44 years and it has always been for him----duty, honor, and Penn State. May he coach for as long as he wants and when he dies, may they "cut" him up and throw him to the skies, so that all the world will be in love with night. JJ
Don
Don says:
I went to Penn State, and ran into Joe while out and about around town there twice--each time he caught MY eye (as I looked at him) and spoke to me FIRST, and was beyond polite and nice--he was interested in saying hi to me. I also once met him at a fundraising type of dinner that my mom took me to, and he was quite gracious to us there, as well. My mom has been my #1 role model in my life, and JoePa was always been an excellent example of the type of person I try (or would like) to be. A kind word, a smile, or just publicly doing the right thing can go a long way.
Réussie Miliardario
Réussie Miliardario says:
Hi, John. Your mom sounds like a special woman. I admire her for her dedication to you and your bother and for not remarrying which can often bring a lot of confusion and disappointment into an already established family. I appreciate her thoughtfulness and advice to you as a boy.

I used to live in Louisville too and this post captured the pace and feel of that all American terrain. Thank you for bringing me back there.

Much success to you.
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Kathy Holmes
Kathy Holmes says:
Two things I love about your mother: (1) She kept the family intact by saying, "I'm already married" after your father died. (2) She wisely encouraged you to find and choose a wise male role model. I think the latter is often overlooked - that a mother can encourage a son to find that wise role model and not rationalize remarrying with the idea of providing that role model for you. We all need role models, no matter our age or circumstances, and I love this advice.
Gerard
Gerard says:
JJ you should write some more. I never went to Penn State and never met Joe but in one sentence about him you lit up the sky. Keep on emoting.
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Sevastian Winters
You're going to want to bail on this post, my friend. Joe's in trouble and it's no time to be a fan. Head's up!
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