I once asked Joe Paterno about his life's greatest accomplishment. He responded, "getting Sue to marry me."
Suzanne Pohland arrived in Happy Valley as a Penn State freshman in 1958, and soon met a friend's coach while studying in the library. She could never have imagined the life she would build with the future legendary head football coach of the Nittany Lions.
Fifty-one years, five children and 16 grandchildren later, she is not only the first lady of Penn State football, she is Pennsylvania royalty, as much for her own philanthropic accomplishments as for her marital status.
I recently sat down for an interview with Sue Paterno while a handful of grandchildren sat patiently nearby. She is approachable and funny, smart and kind. She recounted her early days at Penn State, her unique perspective of the football program revolving around her family:
"When we were having all the kids, I thought that was my role was, really, because he did not have time to do that. Because the thing a coach's wife has to do is to let them do what they have to do - whether it's looking at game films, or going on the road recruiting or coaching a game."
The role of "mom" was just part of her duties as a coach's wife. She acted as the Lions' den mother, tutoring football players and non-athletes for decades, sharing her husband's passion for literature and appreciation for education.
"If you can get this person over the hump or that person over the hump," she said, "then he'll make it, and his children will make it. I think if we lose one we lose the next generation."
She's always put the personal touch on post-game gatherings with friends, university supporters and recruits, in the home her family has shared since 1969, never relying on a caterer, and grateful for ample freezer space.
Ferocious in her support of organizations like Special Olympics and projects like the University Library and Spiritual Center, Sue, like Joe, is always striving to improve Penn State and the community around her.
There were struggles on and off the field, like their son, David's trampoline accident in 1977, and a series of tough seasons not so long ago.
"You know, there are ups and downs in life," she said, "and football isn't the world. We had each other, we had our family. What the outside world said and did, they're going to say and do no matter what."
Like Joe, Sue is faced with questions about their future after football.
"He wants to learn how to cook after he retires," she chuckled, "and I said 'not in my kitchen.' Life's been so great, and we've enjoyed everybody so much, and enjoyed the kids. It'll work itself out."
The Paterno family legacy will be defined through their shared generosity of spirit, commitment to excellence, and compassion for the world around them. But Sue describes her greatest accomplishment as "what we have together and what our family is, that's what really matters."
Kellie Goodman can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears on Tuesdays.