The Football Letterman's Club began in 1980. Buddy Tesner, class of 1975, was in medical school and visited State College in his uncle's Winnebago for one of the few games he was able to see since graduation. He and his wife, Candy, drove to the game in the Winnebago and arranged to meet and tailgate with former teammate, Tom Donchez. Throughout the course of the game Buddy and Tom met-up with several other former players in the stands and/or in the restrooms and gave them directions to the Winnebago. After the game, Buddy Tesner, Tom Donchez, Buddy Ellis, Tommy Hull, Jim Rosecrans, Greg Murphy, and others congregated in the parking lot. After some celebrating the guys decided to call some of their former coaches. They decided to drive directly to JT White's house. JT and his wife were both home and joined the guys in the Winnebago.
They sat in the back of the van and visited with the guys. At some point, the guys decided that they should call some of the other coaches who they hadn't seen for awhile. They then drove the whole delegation to the homes of Sever Toretti, Frank Patrick, and Jim O'Hora. These coaches were glad to see them and joined the group as they laughed and told stories.
It was at this point that Coach White, who had played on a national championship team at both Ohio State and Michigan, told the group about letterman organizations. He told the guys that when he returned to games at Michigan and Ohio State it was easy for him to meet up with his old teammates because there was a Football Letterman's Club at each school that organized reunions and social gatherings. The guys realized that this was a great idea and they wanted to establish a similar Club.
The group then decided that the only proper thing to do was to gain Coach Paterno's support. They decided to drive the whole delegation to Coach Paterno's house. By this time it was approximately midnight. As is customary, Coach Paterno was entertaining with his wife, Sue, and a bunch of dignitaries that included some New Year's Day Bowl representatives. The group, eager to share their idea with Joe, burst into the party and presented their desires in friendly fashion. Suffice to say a good time was being had by all, including the passengers in the Winnebago and all of Joe's guests. They had a grand old time and the party continued for an hour or so. Throughout the course of this, the guys were trying to make their point of wanting to start a football letterman's club.
The idea was picked up most keenly by Sue Paterno. She made it very clear to Joe that a letterman's club was not only appropriate but very necessary. She helped Buddy and his teammates take the necessary steps to make the Club a reality. One of the first steps was to write bylaws. Buddy took it upon himself to formulate bylaws consistent with other existing letterman organizations.
The first few events that the club had were quite successful. They met initially at the HUB and had approximately 800 people. Skits were performed and everyone had a good time. From there, the Club developed a mailing list and roster and started collecting dues for both yearly and lifetime memberships. After the rousting first party, the next one occurred a year later and was held in the old ice rink. They took the opportunity to focalize the meeting around honoring great ex-coach, Rip Engel.
The Club arranged a guest speaker, one of Rip's old coaching nemeses, Ben Schwartzwolter, from Syracuse University. Ben came and did a great job of roasting Rip. Rip was in the last stages of his life at that point and within the next year he passed away. The opportunity for his ex-players to hear him speak and to see him one last time was very touching. The culmination of these first two meetings, held in the early 80's, was the genesis for the Club growing into the future.
One of the initial focal points of the club was to have a permanent clubhouse to meet in at the games. The guys started having yearly events with large tents around the spring game, which became their annual event. However, the focus was always to have some type of an official "Letterman's Club" attached to the stadium where former players could meet. In fact, former player and architect, Chris Weber (class of 1964), put together an elaborate architectural rendition of a clubhouse that could sit on top of the stadium where guys could watch the game and socialize with each other. This never came to fruition, but the idea continued to burn strongly.
The next idea was to put the Letterman's Club in the new "All-Sports Museum" which, at the time, was going to be built between the stadium and the new Bryce Jordan Center. Although this came very close to happening, it never happened. In 2001, we finally did get our Letterman's Club Lounge. The new facility is located on the second level in the Southeast corner of the newly renovated stadium with a grand view of Mount Nittany. So far, our lounge is considered our "dream come true" clubhouse where players can go and meet other players on a casual basis whenever they should show up to the games. The purpose is that when you come to a game you know to go to the clubhouse.
It should also be mentioned here that from the early days of the club, Michaelene Franzetta was our club secretary. Her energy, enthusiasm, and vision had a lot to do with the success in the early years until the foundation was solid enough that it could exist on its own. Throughout the entire history of the Football Lettermen's Club, they have had great support throughout from all the administrators and athletic directors. Frank Rocco was also very instrumental in the success of the early Club.
Everyone is proud of our Penn State football heritage and tradition. The Football Letterman's Club and the Club Lounge are cherries on top of the sundae!