Well maybe not me, but this is the cheer of my wife’s alma mater, Penn State University. If you look it up on You Tube under “Origins of We are Penn State Cheer”, you will see a heart warming story. On any home game, you will hear one side of the stadium cheer, “We Are” and the other side cheer ” Penn State.” Now for a guy who went to a small little school up in Northwest Pa, this brings chills to the spine. It is inspiring and is the mantra for all of those like my wife and her wonderful friends who all went to school together at a fabulous university in a fabulous little town -State College,Pa. Happy Valley.
I would like to speak in this post of the idea of friendship which is embodied in the relationship that has developed over 30 years with my wife Janet and her PSU friends. Let’s start with Mark and Kathy Ritchey who so generously open their home to all of us during the annual rite of the fall-Homecoming weekend. We kill their house but the smiles and the hospitality of the Ritcheys is unmatched. They are generous to a fault and their home is our home. Their daughter Megan plays for the Women’s Soccer Team and Kathy and Mark are like second parents to all of those girls and coaches.
A big motor home rolls in for every home game and especially on Homecoming weekend. It is driven by a little spitfire of a gal named Judy Smith who was a cheerleader for the Lions back in the day. She and her husband Mike drive into the Valley and bring the most amazing food for the tailgates. Nothing beats Judy’s Yum Yum bars and her exquisite turkey served with home made cole slaw on fresh challah rolls. Mike Smith is one of three non-PSU persons like myself and fortunatly for me,he is a mountain biker. For the last 25 years, we have ridden together before the game up on the great trails of the Rothrock State Forest. Our route can be found on the Purple Lizard Maps available at all the bike shops in town. We hit the Longberger Path to the John Wert Path( a rocky hell of a trail), up Heckendorn Gap via Treaster Kettle Road, and then rocketing back down the Longberger to the finish. We have ridden a lot of the trails over the last number of years in all kinds of weather. I will never forget Doc Smith sliding on the ice over this wooden bridge right near the start of the ride. A tough start for Michael but he is a tough guy and the rest of the ride was uneventful and enjoyable. Mike is our medical guy. With all the pub crawling and the scavenger hunts designed by the diabolical Kathy Ritchey, we need a medical man on staff.
Valerie and Bob Reading are another wonderful couple and Val was one of the original(roomies). Bob is an amazing athlete. Mike and I took him for one of his first mountain bike rides and his road riding prowess showed up hard in the climb up the Gap on Treaster Kettle. He left the mountain bike guys in the dust on the climb and Mike and I looked at each other in wonder. Bob still looks like he could play college football. Valerie is one of the friendliest persons I have ever met and her culinary skills along with her sister Diane and her husband Billy, make the tailgate the envy of the alumni crowd. These three can cook up a storm along with Judy’s grub and my wife Janet’s “to die for” chile. Beth O’Donnell another roomie from the day, also prepares a feast for the tailgate and her husband Mike, a former PSU player, enjoys the feast with all of us. Mike is a friendly, capable financial guy who is a dedicated volunteer and generous supporter of all that is Penn State.
Then there is the incomparable Mike Procopio. Copes is a labor attorney from the West Coast via Sharpsburg, Pa and PSU. When he applied to Law School, he looked up the next school in the “P” section of the college manual and found Pepperdine. He was accepted and the next thing you know, Mike is looking at the bikini clad co-eds on the beach from the library window. He is a capable guy and the group has no better friend than Copers. He would give you the shirt off his back and then some. Mike Dunlay(aka the Dunz) is the ringleader of this group. A successful restauranteur from Chicago, he is shown above holding Joe Paterno on his shoulders in the famous Sports Illustrtated cover commemorating the teams National Championship. Dunz is also the guy that I refer to in my earlier ski post on “Characters.” Dunz was the guy I took to Killington to ski with my friend Eric and his national class ski racing son, Travis. Dunz shows up in wrap around Clint Eastwood sunglasses and Cincinnati Bengals billowing cotton pants. We all skied fast that day as usual and the Dunz rocketed down the trails of Killington hollering and laughing all the way down much to the amusement of my friend and his son. People kept asking me if he was an NFL player and I said politely “No- that is ……..the Dunz” He is another guy who would take a bullet for the girls. Another generous guy to a fault who would do anything for his Penn State crowd.
Now you might ask yourself, why am I spending such detail on this group? I am trying to portray the archtypal description of friendship embodied here. As an outsider, I have had the opportunity to observe this crowd for a long time and they are truly a tight group. They have been friends for over 30 years and make the effort to see each other not only at Homecoming but at other times of the year, all over the country. They make the time for each other. They call each other. They value their friendships. I am pleased that they consider me a friend as well and they have always welcomed me into the their midst as an honorary Lion. Pretty nice for a guy who didn’t really make the most of his college experience. Janet is a good friend to all of them. My mother used to say that to have a friend is to be a friend. I see Jan calling her friends from PSU, getting together with them, laughing with them, crying with them, and it is really heartwarming to see how much she enjoys her friends for all these many years. So as inspiring as this is to me, it should be to you as well. Cherish your friends. Make plans and take the time to get together with them. We are getting older. Our kids are growing and will soon have their own path and friends in life. But I expect this group to be rock solid for many years to come. I want to tag along and when the crowd screams,” WE ARE” I will shout back ……”Penn State.” Thanks for reading.