January 23, 2012 / 1:08 AM / 7 years ago

Penn State mourners look to life after Joe Paterno

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Students brought flowers, even shaved initials in their hair, while flags flew at half-staff and lawmakers called for a moment of silence.

For Penn State supporters, Monday began the adjustment to life after Joe Paterno, the wildly successful coach who was the face of the university for half a century — until he was fired for doing too little about a child sexual abuse scandal.

Paterno, 85, died of lung cancer on Sunday after getting fired in November for failing to intervene more forcefully when former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of molesting young boys.

“You have no choice. You have to get through it,” Penn State senior Steve Atz, 21, of West Chester, Pa., said on Monday. He had a friend shave the initials “JP” on the back of his head.

Mourners placed hundreds of flower arrangements and lit candles at a bronze statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium.

Thousands had gathered on Sunday night for a candlelight vigil and marched to a lit football stadium to honor their hero.

“We are still Happy Valley,” freshman Katie Gasior, 18, of Pittsburgh, said, using the campus nickname. “But we’re being a little sad.”

Public viewings were scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, with a private family funeral service set for Wednesday afternoon.

The public memorial service was scheduled for Thursday afternoon at a concert hall on campus.

“It will be a big one,” said F. Glenn Fleming, funeral director of the Koch Funeral Home, though he could not provide details.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett ordered flags flown at half mast at state facilities, and Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Sam Smith, a Penn State alum, asked for a moment of silence at the state House of Representatives.

Penn State students hold a sign in memory of former head football coach Joe Paterno at the Paterno statue at Beaver Stadium at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania January 22, 2012. Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football history who was fired in November over a child sexual abuse scandal involving an assistant that rocked America, died on Sunday of lung cancer. He was 85. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Paterno won a record 409 games over 46 years with a motto of “Success With Honor,” earning him adoration from fans of the successful and profitable program. Many supporters assailed the university board of trustees for firing him unceremoniously in November.

But critics faulted Paterno for his relative inaction upon hearing an accusation that Sandusky sexually abused a young boy in the Penn State football showers in 2002.

Paterno told university officials but not police, opening himself to criticism that he protected an accused child molester for nine years.

Sandusky, 67, who has maintained his innocence, faces 52 criminal counts accusing him of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years, using his position as head of The Second Mile, a charity dedicated to helping troubled children, to find his purported victims. The court placed him under house arrest.

“You can’t let one person define us,” said Lauren Hottowe, 20, a junior, speaking of Sandusky.

Signs of Paterno were ubiquitous along College Avenue.

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One shop window displayed a sign reading: “Black shoes, basic blues, no names, all game. We are Penn State football.” The old-fashion shoes and simply designed uniforms with no player names on back were part of the Paterno legacy.

Paterno’s image of rectitude was shaken by the scandal, which raised questions about the measures the university took to protect Sandusky and a football program that Forbes magazine estimated made a profit of $53 million in 2010.

Accusations against Sandusky first surfaced in 1998. At the time a university police detective admonished him to stop showering naked with boys but stopped short of bringing charges.

For decades Paterno was a symbol of vitality on the Penn State sidelines whose two national championships, in 1982 and 1986, won him enduring loyalty from fans who affectionately called him “Joe Pa.”

In the end, he was confined to a wheelchair upon breaking his hip in a fall one month after being fired, and he wore a wig after losing his hair to chemotherapy, according to the Washington Post, which interviewed Paterno about a week before his death.

“Joe was a legend,” said Dane Berkowitz, 20, a sophomore from Cherry Hill, N.J. “He will never be forgotten.”

Additional reporting by Mark Shade; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Paul Thomasch

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