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Last updated: February 20. 2013 3:06AM - 277 Views

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STATE COLLEGE — From bumper stickers to signs posted by a few businesses to the occasional T-shirt, reminders of Joe Paterno sprinkle Happy Valley.


Most cues are subtle enough to make an outsider look twice. Like the decals with the outline of the bespectacled Paterno's distinctive face, or the shirt with the image of the longtime Penn State coach's trademark look of rolled-up khakis and sneakers.


A year after his death, Paterno and a reputation tarnished in the aftermath of the child sex abuse scandal involving retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky remain sensitive topics for groups of alumni, former players, staffers and community residents.


The Hall of Fame coach died of lung cancer on Jan. 22, 2012, at age 85. Today — exactly a year after his passing — community residents have organized a vigil at a downtown mural that includes a depiction of Paterno.


A family spokesman has said the Paternos would not take part, and remain in privacy.


Their supporters, though, spoke up at a recent meeting of the university's Board of Trustees.


Most critics are angered by how school leaders handled Paterno's ouster as coach and the explosive findings of the internal investigation led by former FBI director Louis Freeh that put part of the blame on Paterno.


Others say the school hasn't done enough to honor a 46-year career in which Paterno was known for focusing on academics and philanthropy as well as football.


The university should lead the way and not sit in silence, said Ed Stine, 62, of Gaithersburg, Md., a member of the alumni watchdog group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. He was one at least one of at least four dozen audience members who applauded or praised speakers who paid tribute to Paterno at the meeting.


The man who built Penn State's program into one of college football's marquee brands was fired in November 2011, days after Sandusky's arrest on molestation and other charges. The trustees had said Paterno was ousted in part because he had a moral obligation to pass on to police outside the university a 2002 allegation of sexual assault by Sandusky that was relayed to Paterno by a graduate assistant.


Sandusky was convicted in June on dozens of criminal counts, crimes that authorities said occurred on and off campus. In July, Freeh accused Paterno and three former school administrators of concealing allegations against Sandusky to protect the school's image.


The NCAA took unprecedented action two weeks later in levying strict sanctions including a four-year bowl ban, strict scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine on the university. College sports' governing body also vacated 111 wins under Paterno, erasing what had been his major college record of 409 career victories.


Paterno's family has vehemently denied Freeh's conclusions and has maintained the coach would not take part in a cover-up. They have said they expect to release a response to Freeh's report in the near future.


The trustees have maintained over the past year that they intend to honor Paterno at some point. When asked last week, a couple trustees cited ongoing legal issues related to the scandal.


There's going to be a time and a place to do that, and I don't think that's right now yet, trustees chairman Keith Masser said last week.


University leaders continue to navigate tricky issues as they try rebuild Penn State's image. In the eyes of some national columnists and other critics outside Pennsylvania or the Penn State community, Paterno's name has been forever soiled.


A survey of alumni conducted for the school by an external public relations firm found that more than eight in 10 alumni remained positive toward Penn State, though that's down from nine in 10 in 2009. The survey also found that recent events still had a negative impact overall on the feelings of alumni, though the impact was less pronounced in December than in the last survey taken in May.


About 75 percent of respondents also said the school should publicly recognize Paterno for his decades of service to the school, down from 87 percent in May. The survey of 1,172 alumni was taken online and over the telephone, with a margin of error that was 2.86 percent.


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