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Holly Swanson: Why I Can't Leave State College

by on April 03, 2012 6:00 AM

My friend Liz likes to ask me when I'm moving back to the Hershey area, where I lived before returning to State College for the third time.

I’ve always left for greener pastures, so to speak ... more affordable housing, more potential employers, more access to museums and entertainment. But leaving State College only made me realize how much I missed it.

There are plenty of reasons why we should move back to Hershey — we'd be closer to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, where my family has ongoing treatments; we have a lot of wonderful friends there; and we like the area, the attractions and the shopping. But there is one difference.

I love State College.

During my adult life, I have lived in four different parts of Pennsylvania and three areas of Florida, but State College is where I feel most at home.

It’s hard explaining this to an outsider. The best way I can describe State College is that, to me at least, there's no frills. No phony “window dressing.” What you see is, well, you know. Everyone can be comfortable here, whether they are in stilettos or hiking boots, cashmere sweaters or carpenter pants.

This attitude extends to our name. We are, simply, named for what is here. But much of the town is like that. Compare some of the most popular restaurants and you’ll see a trend — The Tavern, The Corner Room, The Diner, The Allen Street Grill, The Ale House.

Our restaurants are named exactly what, and in some cases, where they are. You won't find a fancy-sounding Le Bec Fin or Salt of the Earth restaurant here. We just call it like we see it.

State College is rich in festivals, museums, plays and sporting events. There is a family friendly event going on almost every weekend. There is a sense of pride and joy in State College.

But then came November. Or as I like to call it, “what the hell just happened?”

I’m going to break with most public opinions and admit to not being a huge fan of Joe Paterno on the football field. I thought he should have retired years ago. I drive past Beaver Stadium at least twice a day and announced to my family over the past few seasons that I thought this would be Joe's last year. I wish I had been wrong this time.

Regardless of my feelings about him as a coach, Joe Paterno was a great humanitarian and ambassador for the community, his football players and for Penn State. He made Penn State and State College better places. Both he and his family deserve much better.

So I stood beside and cried along with thousands of other fans gathered at the Paterno statue in the days after his death. I stood by silently, my 5-month-old daughter strapped to my shoulders, and watched as the funeral procession drove through campus. Even now, I can't believe it.

But this is home. Despite what the national media says, this is still a great place to raise a family. It is safe, it abounds with educational activities and it has endless possibilities for outdoor recreation.

I feel somewhat protective of State College after “what the hell just happened?” and I can’t leave it. Not for a while, at least.

Sorry, Liz, we’re staying put.

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Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer. She is on Twitter @statecollegemom and can be reached via email at [email protected]
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