Sara Pitzer: Penn State and Paterno

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

By Sara Pitzer
For the Salisbury Post
When I first went to work at the Salisbury Post, one of the first things Mark Wineka and I established was that we are both Penn State graduates and proud of it.
Mark was enthusiastic about all things related to football. I was relatively indifferent. It was nice to hear that Penn State had won a big game, but I never followed the seasons, the players or the sport in general.
Still, I knew a good bit about Penn State football, Joe Paterno and some of the other coaches, because my husband and I lived just a couple of houses away from the Paternos. Sue and I, each with two little girls, spent time together, exchanged recipes and traded off keeping all four kids so we could take turns getting our hair done by Ian of Danks. Sue and I had a lot in common. Both of us were about a decade younger than the men we married and we were living so close to the edge financially that we ordered the children’s Christmas presents from Creative Playthings, which was the one place we could use a credit card. We looked enough alike to accept waves in public for one another. (Later she got thinner and I got fatter and that was the end of that.)
Sue canned tomatoes and made sauce for the homemade lasagna she routinely served in their home for the families of young men Joe was recruiting for the football team. Sometimes as she cooked, we talked. In that era, the 1960s, Sue told me that when the team won a game the phone rang with congratulations and visitors flocked to the house. When they lost, she said, the place was utterly silent.
The silence now, except for some student support, must be worse. As I read the developing story about former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the scandal, I was dismayed. I understood Mark Wineka’s “sad, sad, sad,” column and I said in a note to him that I felt as though I too had lost something I valued.
But Tuesday night as I slept, my brain did some mental wrestling and I got up Wednesday morning with a new focus. Surely some fans will lose a hero, others a martyr. Some people will gain a villain. Who knows what will come of the forthcoming trials? Who knows what will happen to Penn State football since Joe has said he will retire at the end of the season? Who knows what will become of Joe, whose life has been focused on Penn State since he was 23 years old, or Sue, whose life has been as wife of the coach, tutor to players and grandmother of the offspring?
Wednesday morning I remembered this: Penn State is a school. A place to learn. When I entered the School of Journalism in 1956 and graduated in 1960, it was considered one of the best in the country. The man I married was a graduate assistant at student radio station WDFM. Instead of finishing a graduate degree, he took a job at the local radio station, WMAJ, which kept me part of the local scene until 1980. During those years, I earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in speech communication studies, a department so respected at the time graduate students from other universities would say, “You’re from Penn State!” That plethora of degrees didn’t do me a lot of good later on, but what I learned getting them has been gold and bedrock.
As it has for Mark. He’s a hugely, enviably talented writer, and his work reflects a fine Penn State education.
Who knows what will happen next at Penn State? Many programs funded by football money may falter. But maybe not. We just don’t know. But I, and other alums, know that the university is still home to valuable programs in many fields.
I’ve never owned a piece of clothing marked with the Penn State logo, but if I did, I would wear it now.
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Sara Pitzer is a former reporter for the Salisbury Post.