The More Things Change

Stories from a 1961 issue of The Penn Stater featured game day traffic patterns, insight from Penn State’s football coach, and schedule notes. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

Many of the similarities were striking.

For anyone who’s enamored with the history and tradition of Penn State — the football program and University — the connections to yesteryear will probably evoke affectionate chuckles more than anything else.

Alumni and fans were informed of new traffic patterns on game day, the football coach wondered how the sport’s new rules would impact his team, and the University president was concerned with the rising cost of tuition.

Stories detailing these topics appeared in The Penn Stater in 1961, specifically the September and December issues. I was transported back to this time after my parents recently picked up these Penn State artifacts at an antique shop in the Harrisburg area.

The find prompted some thinking on our part. At the time, what is now the Penn Stater magazine was called Penn State Alumni News. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that former Football Letter editor John Black, who previously oversaw the magazine, renamed the publication to The Penn Stater. The current edition of the magazine stopped italicizing The a number of years ago.

However, there’s a note in each issue detailing that the early 1960s version of The Penn Stater is mailed four times a year — March, June, September, and December — “by The Pennsylvania State University in the interest of Penn State alumni.” Longtime Alumni Association leader Ross Lehman is listed as editor, with Ridge Riley noted as executive secretary. This rendition of The Penn Stater was in its 24th year of publication in 1961, taking its origin back to the late 1930s. The current edition of the Penn Stater began in 1914.

News of the day in the 1960s featured some of the same topics that are timely today, in addition to light-hearted topics such as the popularity of milk. Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

There are promotions for The Football Letter, an area titled News of Alumni that’s “condensed from the Penn State Alumni News,” and a sidebar with quotes from Rip Engle, preparing for his 12th year as head coach. Engle shared his thoughts on new rules enacted for the upcoming college football season. One-platoon football was again the norm, as unlimited substitutions went away — players played both offense and defense, unheard of for today’s game — and the two-point conversion was an option at the time.

At first, Engle wasn’t a fan of the platoon change, but he came around, saying that “unrestricted substitutions would mean bigger squads and bigger coaching staffs with offensive and defensive specialists. We would be spending too much money because of the increase in the overall size of the program.”

I’ll pause here to allow the reader to think about how much the game has seismically shifted since that time.

The platoon rule was changed again a few years later, and in 1965, teams once again featured separate offensive and defensive squads.

Here are a few editorial highlights:

  • At the time, tuition cost $525/year for in-state students and $1,050 for students from elsewhere. “Tuition and room-and-board charge cannot go much higher,” President Eric Walker said, “without seriously affecting the ability of our young people to enter college after high school.” Tuition rose multiple times from 1947-61, with President Walker adding, “It must stop soon or a college education no longer will be within reach of the family of modest means.”
  • A prominent headline reads, “University Outlines New Routes to Beaver Stadium to Ease Football Game Traffic,” adding that “five attractive home games” will most likely lead to record attendance numbers and extra traffic. Detailed traffic patterns, complete with color codes, topped the article, as that season, Penn State hosted Navy, Army, Syracuse, California, and Holy Cross. In case you’re wondering, the Nittany Lions defeated all those teams except for Army. After going through the requisite details of what to expect from game day traffic and how to alleviate it, the article ended, “And here’s a final suggestion, as practiced by many people last year: get to the stadium at noon, or even earlier, and bring a picnic lunch. You will have no traffic problem and plenty of time to admire the scenery.”
  • On the lighter side, a news item declares, “Milk a Popular Drink.” Numbers were provided to ensure this wasn’t opinion, but fact. Male students eating in the University dining halls consumed an average of 10 quarts per week, while coeds were close behind with an average of 8.5.

Check out more photos below:

Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.
Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.
Photo credit: John Patishnock Jr.

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