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I’ve Found My Role Models

If my wife and I manage to live long enough, I want us to be like Lefty and Connie McIntyre: full of good cheer, grateful for the way their lives have turned out and still very much in love. 

The McIntyres are in their 90s. When Connie joins Lefty and me in the sunroom of their house in West College Heights, Lefty kisses her on the cheek. She puts her head on his shoulder. They hold hands. 

Lefty’s real name is Thomas Duane McIntyre. His baseball card would say that he bats left and throws left. Thus, Lefty.

He played on the Penn State baseball team his freshman year – 1950 — but wasn’t good enough to make varsity. He wanted to play football also – “I was a pretty damn good athlete,” he says of his high school years in Fairfield, California — but he quickly realized he wasn’t big, strong or fast enough to play for the Nittany Lions. He weighed 160 then, same as now.

Penn State was an unlikely choice for a high school kid from Northern California. UC Berkeley was just down the road, but Lefty was born on a farm in Wellsboro and so, he says, “I always perceived myself as a Pennsylvanian.” Listening to the radio broadcast of the 1948 Cotton Bowl between Penn State and Southern Methodist clinched it. For college, he would go back east.

The farm in Wellsboro had no electricity, no toilet and no running water. One of his earliest memories was of too much water: the St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1936. A rowboat came right into the living room of his grandparents’ house in Jersey Shore to rescue the family.  

His youth was a nomadic one. After his parents divorced, his mom thought they’d try their luck in Florida. Mother and son, age 7, went out on the highway and stuck out their thumbs. They got picked up by a truck driver who very soon after they arrived in the Sunshine State became Lefty’s stepfather.  

The marriage didn’t last. While stationed in Europe, Stepdad met a German woman and never returned. 

Things were tough. At one point, Lefty and his mom made money picking cherries. When he got older, he worked as a night watchman. Once, to save money on train fare, he hitchhiked from Sacramento to State College. He spent $1.19 on the entire trip and that was for a plate of spaghetti when he got to Pennsylvania. 

At Penn State he studied kinesiology and wrestled on an intramural team. A photocopied page from the Daily Collegian dated March 31, 1953, features a story about his team winning the IM championship. He’s Lefty McIntyre in the story.

In the mid-‘50s, with the Cold War heating up, he trained as a fighter pilot, at one point preparing to bomb a reservoir near Leningrad.

“Thank God it never became a hot war,” he says. “I never wanted to kill anybody, and I never have.”

After serving, Lefty returned to Penn State for his master’s degree (he played handball with Joe Paterno), then taught and coached wrestling at SUNY Brockport, near Rochester, New York.

In 1970, he earned his doctorate in kinesiology from Penn State. His area of interest: the sociology of sport. He shows me his dissertation: “A Field Experimental Study of Cohesiveness, Status, and Attitude Change in Four Biracial Small Sports Groups.” 

Among the chapter headings: “Ethnography of the Cleveland Browns,” “Ethnography of the Buffalo Bills,” “Ethnography of the Blue Devils.”

He continued teaching at Brockport and, in a campus parking lot, met Connie, a fellow faculty member (Education) and fellow single parent. Lefty calls her a “Mainiac” – she grew up in Maine. You can still hear traces of her Down East accent. Lefty says “garsh” for “gosh” and once, “I’ll be dadgum.”

Connie had two children from her first marriage. Lefty had four. His blue eyes twinkling, he tells me all his kids are M.D.’s: Michael Duane, Mark David, Melanie Dawn and Matthew Damon. 

About 20 years ago, the couple retired to State College for a life of volunteering, attending (and ushering) at Penn State sports events, and traveling. They’ve been to all seven continents. I ask them if there are any more trips in their future.

“We’re up in our 90s now,” Connie says, “and I think we’ve got to behave ourselves.”

These days, they spend much of their time reading. The sunroom is a happy chaos of books, newspapers and magazines. “I don’t win prizes for housekeeping,” Connie says cheerfully.

Among the titles that catch my eye: “Milestones of Aviation,” “A History of Russia” and “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

When he’s not reading, Lefty still rides a bike around the neighborhood. 

“We have everything in the world anybody could want,” he says. “We love and respect each other.”

Connie concurs: “I’m very blessed to have such a wonderful life.”