Immortalized Paterno statue, made in Ephrata, part of national spotlight as PSU mourns

By on January 26, 2012

By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor, Staff Writer

The Joe Paterno statue, located outside Gate F at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, has become a national shrine.

In wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal which led to the ousting of the legendary coach back in November, fans flocked to the monument in a show of support for Paterno, who spent six decades at the university.

Now, days after Paterno succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 85, the statue has become more than that. Hundreds, if not thousands, have flocked to the front gates of Beaver Stadium to pay their respects, leaving flowers, candles and football memorabilia by the seven-foot likeness of Paterno to mourn his passing.

To look into the eyes of local sculptors Yesid Gomez and Wilfred Buitrago, of course there is sadness in regards to the above scene, but also a great amount of pride. That’s because 11 years ago, they, along with Reading area artist Angelo DiMaria, were the ones to sculpt the statue.

The entire project, from start to finish, was done right here in Ephrata at their then-studio on Pointview Ave.

No kidding.

And now, they are honored to see that their work, in a small way, is helping fans, students and alumni in the grieving process.

"It was pretty sad to hear that JoePa died," Buitrago said Tuesday. "Especially after the way he was fired…But while it makes me sad, at the same time, we’re pretty glad that we were able to be part of the project for the statue that is going to pretty much keep him alive."

"We are proud," he continued. "I mean, everything we’ve done we’ve been proud about. It’s something that happens to an artist. When you are making it and then when it’s done, you can’t believe you did that. So sometimes when we see that, when people are around it, we’re like, ‘Wow. We were part of that.’ It’s a nice feeling."

Back in 1999, Penn State made the decision to construct the monument at the stadium, and commissioned DiMaria to do the project. However, because DiMaria works mostly with small scale items, he asked Gomez and Buitrago to lend a hand.

The Reading artist provided Gomez and Buitrago with a small model, and they went to work, first creating a clay model, adding a rubber mold before casting it in bronze. Along with the statue of Paterno, they also created the four football figures which today accompanies the monument.

At the time, the local pair was also creating a Nittany Lion mascot sculpture, which is now located in the Nittany Lion Museum, and an 11-foot crucifix for the St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis, Md.

"The whole entire project was done right here in Ephrata, and then straight up to Penn State," Gomez said. "When people see this, they don’t know how much labor was involved. A lot of sweat went into this. That project took us almost a year because we were working on those other things."

While the Colombia natives have moved on to other projects– they also did the Golden Bear statue at Kutztown University– occasionally they have been called back to Penn State for some "touch-up" work on the Paterno statue.

"People started to steal the glasses off of Joe," Gomez said. "I believe what they did is they cut the glasses off. When they graduate or something, they say, ‘OK, the challenge this year is the Joe Paterno glasses.’ They call us all the time and say, ‘Hey, the Joe Paterno glasses have been stolen. We need to replace them. The kids cut them off and they call us."

While neither men had the chance to meet Paterno before he died–a lunch date that was suppose to take place never worked out–both became fans of Paterno and Penn State football because of the project.

Gomez said he is sad he wasn’t ever able to meet the coaching legend.

"It hurts because since we did the Joe Paterno project, we are now Penn State fans," he said. "I’m telling you, we are Penn State, and we didn’t even know about Penn State before we did this. It was just soccer because we are from South America, but now everything is Penn State, Penn State, Penn State…Ten years ago, we didn’t know about it. Now, we are Penn State!"

And in a time of sadness, both Gomez and Buitrago are happy knowing Paterno will live on, in some way, through them.

"Joe Paterno is a part of us," Gomez said. "We never met him, but we immortalized Joe Paterno. We did it. You know how many people take a picture of JoePa’s sculpture? Pretty much everybody (who visits) Penn State. We’re proud we were a part of that project. We’re glad, because of the statue more people are going to be able to visit it and in a way keep JoePa alive. That’s what makes me proud." More PATERNO, page A18

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