The media feeding frenzy centering on Penn State masked the human side of a story about a grand icon. So in order to try to preserve some of that humanity, we are stepping out of the financial market and economic arena and offering an interlude to contemplate. We received this email from Michael Kirschner, a friend of decades and one who was very close to Paterno. I asked Michael’s permission to distribute this email. He agreed. For those who wish to send him a note, his email is MKIRSCHBRO@aol.com.
Michael Kirschner wrote:
Having just returned from 4 days in State College for the funeral of Patty's and my dearest friend, Joe Paterno, I wanted to share our experiences with fraternity brothers, fellow committee members, alumni, and just friends who care about him.
I found 4 distinct emotions during the time, which are carrying over now that he is gone a full week: LOVE, GRIEF, DISBELIEF, and ANGER.
The town was packed when we arrived Monday night and immediately went to the shrine. It was a sea of people, flowers, candles, notes, PSU memorabilia … and tears. The lights in Beaver Stadium were kept on all night and an image of Joe was on each of the big scoreboards – it was such a hallowed sight; there was mist mixed in with light, and Joe looking down.
Tuesday was the first day of the viewing, held in the University Spiritual Center. The lines we 3 to 4 hours long and when you arrived at the closed casket it was on a riser attended by two football players, one from the current squad and one from prior teams, dressed in suits and pretty much at attention. Standing in line, the people I interacted with came from every walk of life, too many to even begin to describe, but the one that lasts in my mind was a single mother with her two pre-teen sons, both dressed in suits, who drove in from Boston because she wanted her sons to go to Penn State someday, not as football players but because she idolized the values of Joe Paterno.
Members of Joe's family were almost always present to say hello, shake hands, and speak with the mourners. Prior to the viewing being open to the public, the current football team and then his former players – almost 1000 strong – were able to file past. When I filed past I thanked Joe for being the reason I have been so passionate about Penn State, for inviting me to serve on the Paterno Library Board, becoming its chair, and also to serve on the Athletic Board. I quickly thought back on all the wonderful personal times we shared together – the heroic effort he and Sue made to come to San Francisco for my son's wedding, his walking Patty down the aisle at our wedding, the values of life he lived, which I so adored. As I was asked to move along, I blew a kiss to his casket.
Tuesday night, Joe's friend Phil Knight arrived, and we sat in the Nittany Lion Inn and Phil just "teed off" against the board and its decision to fire Joe. The bar at the Inn was the gathering place for so many, and we were joined by Brandon and Mahreen Short, Franco and Dana Harris(she is the LEADER of our mission to get the bus off of Joe that he was thrown under), Joe's and my dear friend and fellow Library chair George Middlemas, and even the quarterback going back to my era, Jack White.
It was in the line, where you had the chance to speak to strangers, that the emotions started to really come out –
Penn State will never be the same
JoePa is Penn State
I can't believe it, I thought he would live forever
Damn the Board and all its members
The Governor should be impeached
It’s not right
and hundreds more.
Wednesday morning was additional viewing until noon, and the funeral was at two, conducted in the same room and officiated by the Archbishop of Altoona and the Priests of Penn State and the Paterno church, Our Lady of Victory. As we walked over from the Nittany Lion, friends and football players all the way back to Lenny Moore and Phil Knight were with us.
Approximately 100 people were in attendance. It was so good to see Tim Curley looking well after recent surgery to remove a cancerous portion of his lung. Father Mathew delivered a eulogy that was so wonderful that Joe certainly would have told him to stop – as did members of the Family, including the two oldest grandchildren. Each speaker talked about the message Angelo Paterno gave Joe when Joe told him he was going to be a football coach, not a lawyer. “If you’re going to coach, then make an IMPACT!” he told Joe. I know that Angelo was Joe's hero, and Joe certainly fulfilled that request.
From there the family boarded one bus and the rest of us another for the trip to the cemetery. THIS MAY HAVE BEEN THE MOST IMPRESSIVE AND INDESCRIBABLE part of the tributes. The processional left Pasquerella Spiritual Center and went to Beaver Stadium, turned right, past the JoePa statue down to College Ave., then left at The Corner Room and to the cemetery near the Center Hills Country Club. People stood 5-10 deep the entire route, and numerous teams stood dressed in full uniform. I remember most the women’s hockey team with their sticks up in a salute. The signs were incredible, expressing love, thanks, appreciation, and every other positive emotion I can think of. A hero was gone and so many turned out to pay their respects, offer thanks, take a last photo, wave, and hug a friend and cry as his hearse passed.
The burial was short, prayerful, and final. His family and friends stood there with us, most in disbelief – this couldn't be happening. We walked a short distance to the Country Club, which is nearby where the Paterno Family had a reception for us. Sue was available to speak with everyone, as were all of Joe's children; and we sat at tables, ate, and reflected on our memories of this unique ICON, so much more than a football coach.
Thursday was the public memorial in the Bryce Jordan Center, which was filled to capacity of the stands seating and floor. I hope you were able to see the program on TV. Five players from each decade of Joe’s career spoke, and several remembered how he used to stress making an IMPACT in life and on the field. We also heard a Paterno Fellow student (the scholarship program Joe and Sue funded); the founder of Paternoville, a tent city set up outside Beaver Stadium several days before each home game, so the students can get the best front-row seats; and Phil Knight, who brought the house to its feet for a long ovation when he said "I know there is a villain in this investigation, but it’s not Joe Paterno." Jay Paterno was the final speaker, and I know his Dad looked down, pleased.
From there we left, but took one more trip past the statue. I encourage each of you when you visit it to look at the quote by Joe on the rear wall. Sadly it has now come to pass, but what a beautiful self-eulogy: "WHEN I AM GONE I HOPE THEY REMEMBER I MADE PENN STATE A BETTER PLACE, NOT THAT I WAS A GOOD FOOTBALL COACH." You did it Joe and you are loved. We promise the Legend will live on, and we promise to try to make an impact.
With tears after rereading this, our love and thanks to our friends,
Michael and Patty
Thank you , Michael, for sharing, caring and willingness to exemplify both to strangers.