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Ginger Suhey, Matriarch of Penn State First Family of Football, Dies

by on November 23, 2011 5:30 PM

Virginia H. “Ginger” Suhey, the matriarch of Penn State football’s first family of football spanning four generations, passed away on Monday. She was 84.

She was born on July 3, 1927 in Clarksburg, W.Va., the daughter of the late Robert A. Higgins and Virginia Gaylord Higgins. On March 3, 1949 Ginger married Steven J. Suhey, who preceded her in death on Jan. 8, 1977.

A life-long resident of State College, Ginger was a 1944 graduate of State College Area High School, and a 1948 graduate of Penn State. Upon graduation, she taught physical education at Juniata College. After the death of her husband, she took over his business, LG Balfour Co., with her son Larry. She was an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority, Penn State Nittany Lion Club and St. Andrews Episcopal Church.

Ginger is survived by sons Stephen, Paul, Matthew and Larry; daughters Kathy, Betsey and Nancy; 11 grandchildren; and sisters Mary Ann Higgins Lyford and Nancy Higgins Dooley.

Her Nittany Lion football roots extended back to her father, Bob Higgins, an All-America in 1915 and 1919, and the football coach from 1930-48. Higgins, who came to Penn State in 1914, was the second All-American in Penn State history.

Those ties continued through the 2011 season. Her grandson, Joe Suhey, is a fifth-year running back for the Nittany Lion football team. Another grandson, Kevin, played for Penn State in 2005-2007.

Her late husband, Steve, was a letterman at guard in 1942 and in 1946-47. After serving in the military during World War II, Steve returned to Penn State and was a key player and All-America selection on Penn State’s 1947 squad that went 9-0-1 and tied SMU 13-13 in the 1948 Cotton Bowl. Higgins was the coach of that team.

Sons Larry, Paul and Matt all played football for State College Area High School and Penn State. At State High, they were key players on Little Lion teams that were considered among the best in Pennsylvania in the 1970s. Paul lettered for the Penn State football team in 1975-78, Larry in 1975-76 and Matt in 1976-79.

Paul is an orthopedic surgeon based in State College, and is a current member of the Penn State Board of Trustees. Matt played for 10 years with the Chicago Bears in the National Football League. He is a member of the Pennsylvania football all-century team.

At Penn State, Ginger's father lettered in football, baseball, boxing and wrestling. Higgins, who died in 1969, was named to the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. His record at Penn State was 91-57-11. He was succeeded for one season by Joe Bedenk, who was followed by Rip Engle (1950-1965) and Joe Paterno (1966-2011).

According to “Road to Number One,” a history of Penn State football written by the late Ridge Riley, Paterno lived for a year with Ginger and Steve Suhey when he came to Penn State from Brown, and was a first-year Nittany Lion assistant coach.

“Sunny (Rip’s wife) and their son, Chip, hadn’t arrived at the house Rip had already bought on Woodland Drive," Riley wrote, "and there was no furniture, but Joe slept for two weeks in a cot until he moved in with Steve and Ginger Suhey for the first year, and then with Jim O’Hora family.”

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Higgins/Suhey Endowment Fund c/o The Nittany Lion Club, 157 Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, PA  16802.

Funeral arrangements are by Koch Funeral Home, in State College. A viewing will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 30 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Services will be held at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, 408 W. Foster St., State on, Thursday, Dec. 1  at 2 p.m., with the Rev. Richard Wall officiating.

Online condolences may be made via this link.



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