Sue Paterno: The Lady Behind the Legend

Sue Paterno and her husband Joe PaternoWhen we think of Penn State football, the first person that comes to mind almost universally is the man, the myth, the legend, Joe Paterno. He is without question the reason why Nittany Lion football, and Penn State University as a whole, are viewed as one of the best programs and schools in the nation. He has been the foundation for which Penn State football has been built. But what about his foundation, what keeps him grounded as the face of Penn State University? The answer is Sue Paterno, JoePa’s wife of 47 years.

Sue Paterno has been so much more influential to Penn State than many people realize. A funny influence she has had on Penn State lore is that, back in the 60’s, she suggested that JoePa roll up his pant legs so that he wouldn’t get mud on his pants while roaming the sidelines. JoePa tried it and it did the trick, and he’s been doing it ever since.

On a more serious note though, SuePa (as she’s affectionately known as) has been majorly influential in several important aspects of the Penn State community. As a former English teacher, she and her husband decided in 1998 to donate $3.5 million to the University for the purpose of endowing faculty positions and scholarships, and to support the expansion of the Pattee Library. It is because of this donation that we now have the Pattee and Paterno libraries at the top of the Mall. (A popular Lion Scout factoid is that Penn State is the only Division I school to have a library building named after a football coach and his family) SuePa continues to work with the University Libraries system to help raise money for expansion and preservation of the collection.

She helps organize the Pennsylvania summer games, a subset of the Special Olympics, held at Penn State every June. Over the summer Sue and her husband donated $1 million to the Mount Nittany Medical Center to help build a new wing for the hospital.

SuePa has also been a major influence in the lives of dozens of JoePa’s Nittany Lion players. For years she has been offering help to football players who were struggling in English classes. On several occasions, players had been told that they could only attend Penn State if they took lessons from SuePa.

Sue Paterno has had a major impact on Penn State, both within the football program we hold so dear, and the rest of the community. Her husband agrees:

“I’ve said many times that they won’t have any problems replacing me, but if they can find a coach’s wife like Sue, they’ll hit the jackpot.”

Well said coach, well said.


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About the Author

Chase Tralka

Chase Tralka is a Senior majoring in Information Sciences and Technology with a minor in Security and Risk Analysis. He is from Northern New Jersey and is involved in far too many organizations to list here. He enjoys photography, cycling, and listening to obscure free jazz music.


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