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For Incumbent Penn State Trustee Riley, Paterno and Spanier Departures Were 'Hardest Decision'

on March 01, 2012 10:58 AM

They're expected to be central questions in the competitive race for alumni-controlled Penn State board seats this year:

Why and how did the sitting board decide to fire Joe Paterno on Nov. 9? And what should the board do now with respect to him and his legacy, in the wake of his death Jan. 22?

For State College native Anne Riley, the sole alumni-elected university trustee seeking reelection in 2012, the ouster of Paterno as football coach -- and the simultaneous removal Graham Spanier as university president -- was "the hardest decision I've ever been a part of."

It was a decision fraught with collective anguish on the board, Riley told reporters on Jan. 20.

Speaking at a press conference, she said the board "began by being stunned at what happened to the children in a Penn State location, on our campus. That was the first part of the anguish" in early November, Riley said, when child-sexual-abuse charges were filed against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

"But it wasn't the only worry and sadness and -- later -- truly difficult process that we went through," she continued. "Graham Spanier and Joe Paterno and their families -- those families are personal friends of mine, and that is true of several -- many -- of the trustees."

Without delving into many nuances of board discussions about Paterno and Spanier, Riley said she relied "on the strength of my colleagues," listened carefully and tried "to process so that I, too, could be part of that decision" to end the men's Penn State leadership roles.

"I found this situation to be terrible, but it was my duty to come 'round," she said. "And it took every single minute of those days from Nov. 5 (when charges were filed) through the decision on Nov. 9" to remove Spanier and Paterno.

Having grown up in State College, Riley is a daughter of the late Peg and Ridge Riley. She mentioned both her parents in her remarks Jan. 20, telling how her father, a well-known writer who started the Penn State football newsletter for the university Alumni Association, had a coronary attack one night while visiting the Paternos.

Ridge Riley died that January day -- in Joe Paterno's arms -- more than 30 years ago, Anne Riley told reporters.

"I had a family connection from a really early age with Joe, and I loved Joe," she said. She said she knew Joe Paterno personally since she was about eight years old.

Riley's words about Spanier were similarly warm, saying she had known him across decades. She and Spanier's wife, Sandra Spanier, taught together at State College Area High School, where Riley was a longtime English teacher.

(Video of Riley's complete comments is available in the piece embedded below, provided via WPSU.)

Now retired, Riley has served on the Penn State board for 14 years. She holds undergraduate (1964) and graduate (1975) degrees from the university.

She could not be reached immediately this week for comment about her reelection bid. Her campaign website, though, reads in part: "The complexity of Penn State challenges a trustee to learn about all its dimensions and locations before making decisions that affect policy. Anne knows the issues because she studies, questions and listens."

In running again, Riley, of the Boalsburg area, will face a field of competitors many times larger than the norm. The university announced Wednesday that 86 alumni plan to run this spring for three of the alumni-controlled seats on the board.

The last time three such seats were up -- in 2011 -- six people ran. Alumni control nine seats on the 32-voting-member board.

The other two alumni seats in play this year have been held by David R. Jones, of Montclair, N.J., and David Joyner, of the Harrisburg area. Jones has declined to run again; Joyner has left the board to join the university staff as acting athletic director.

Other State College-area residents running for the Penn State board this year include Ryan J. McCombie, Vincent J. Tedesco, John W. Diercks, Edward "Ted" B. Brown III, Scott O. Fozard, George T. Henning Jr. and Gregory H. Wolf.

A complete list of candidates and ballot positions -- along with earlier coverage, including voting dates -- is available via the pages linked below.

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