Some 15 years ago, Mark Pasquerilla sat across a table from Joe Paterno and discussed with the legendary football coach how a business family from Johnstown could help Penn State expand its religious center on campus.
On Wednesday, their relationship came full circle, as the president of Pasquerilla Enterprises and head of Crown American Hotels sat in the beautiful Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla Spiritual Center as family members said goodbye to Paterno, who died a week ago today.
Paterno was buried Wednesday in State College, then remembered Thursday in a tribute service at a packed Bryce Jordan Center that was broadcast regionally and nationally by various networks.
“I think it was very fitting,” Pasquerilla said, reflecting on his emotions of hearing eulogies for Paterno in a building his family’s business helped build and that bears his name.
“According to Joe’s daughter, it was the first funeral ever held there,” Pasquerilla said. “Maybe it will be the last.”
The Pasquerilla Spiritual Center was formed when the Eisenhower Chapel – opened in 1955 – was expanded in a building project completed in 2003.
The original chapel was named for Penn State President emeritus Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. An early expansion was completed in 1975.
Then in the late 1990s, plans were developed to double the size of the center.
Paterno, as usual, was called upon by Penn State to reach out to potential
The coach had an initial meeting with Mark Pasquerilla, who represented Crown American – which built and at the time operated the nearby Nittany Mall.
“He told me, ‘Mark, we’re really close to getting this thing built. We need about $1 million,’ ” Pasquerilla recalled.
The younger Pasquerilla arranged a lunch meeting with his father, Paterno and then-university President Graham Spanier.
And at that meeting, Paterno dropped a bombshell: The amount needed to build the center was more like $6 million.
“I was shocked,” Mark said.
“I said, ‘Joe, you asked me to kick a field goal for your guys. Now, you’re asking me to complete a Hail Mary pass and win the game.’ And Joe just laughed.
“I’m surprised my father didn’t get up and leave right then. Only someone like Joe could keep my father from leaving the table and walking out the door.”
At Paterno’s urging, the Pasquerilla family did help Penn State build the spiritual center – now the largest multifaith facility of its kind in the country.
Frank Pasquerilla passed away in 1999.
The 44,000-square-foot building is home to daily activities in a variety of
spiritual areas, and hosts worship services, weddings and other programs.
On Tuesday, thousands of mourners stood in line for hours for the opportunity to pass through the center and see Paterno’s casket – flanked by current and former football players.
A day later, Paterno’s sons – Jay and Scott – led a funeral service for the all-time major-college football wins leader and the driving force behind many of the building projects that now grace the University Park campus.
All who entered the sanctuary passed by a sign that listed the donors who supported the spiritual center project.
At the top of the list: Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla.
Right below: The Paterno family.
“I think the big untold story about Joe Paterno is his efforts in philanthropy,” Pasquerilla said. “This guy did so much fundraising for Penn State, more than anybody knows. And he and his wife are very giving people.
“When you hear news reports, it seems like occasionally the guy met with wealthy alums, maybe got a few of them to write some checks. But that doesn’t even get to the bottom of it.”
Pasquerilla – a Notre Dame fan and season-ticket holder – recalled dinners at the Paterno home in State College after games at Beaver Stadium.
“Sue would cook, and there would be 40 or more people there,” he said. “And when you schedule these things, you don’t know what the outcome of the game would be.”
While attending a game some years ago as a guest of the Paternos, Pasquerilla said, Sue Paterno told him she was glad they could work together to complete the spiritual center.
“This center means a great deal to her,” Pasquerilla said, adding: “It was a privilege to know him and his family.”
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.
On the Web
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