Posts filed under ‘The Penn Stater Magazine’
How an unlikely friendship with Penn State’s squirrels put a student in the spotlight—and helped her manage her autism.
Story by Amy Strauss Downey ’04 / photographs by Sara Naomi Lewkowicz
This story appears in the September/October issue of The Penn Stater, the official publication of the Penn State Alumni Association. Not a member? Click here to join.
Our new issue includes a short feature on Joe Humphreys, Penn State’s legendary fly-fishing educator. For the story, writer Matt Sedensky caught up with Humphreys and with Lucas and Megan Bell, the husband-and-wife team wrapping up production on Live the Stream, a feature-length documentary on Humphreys due out this year. You can watch the trailer here. – B.J Reyes, associate editor
Joe Humphreys seems every bit the veteran fly-fisherman, wearing waders, a ratty, decades-old vest and a face full of character that doesn’t hide his 87 years. Then a crowd masses on the riverbanks, or another angler asks for a photo, and you realize you’re in the presence of something more: Fishing royalty.
Now the story of Humphreys ’57—so highly regarded for his fishing skills that his company has been sought by statesmen and celebrities alike—has garnered the interest of filmmakers who are wrapping up shooting of “Live the Stream,” a documentary about his life. Fly fishing’s serene waters and graceful casts of the line may seem the antithesis of an engrossing feature-length film, the humility, genuineness, and joy Humphreys continues to exude somehow exhilarate the viewer, elevating a sport to art.
He still remembers the day when his father first took him fly-fishing at the age of six, the Kingfisher bamboo rod he clumsily held and that eight-inch trout he was thrilled to catch. It’s been a constant in the eight decades since. “I still have that basic excitement that I had when I was six years old,” he says. “And that’s one thing that I suppose I won’t lose till I can’t pick up a rod.”
After Penn State, Humphreys coached and taught before also establishing one of the first high school fly-fishing programs. In 1970 came the realization of a dream, a return to Penn State to lead the angling program started by his mentor, George Harvey ’35. His time at Penn State spanned almost two decades.
Throughout his career, students have included Jimmy Carter, Dick Cheney, Bobby Knight and Liam Neeson. Just as meaningful as the big-name companions, though, have been those he’s touched through programs he’s been involved in that help instruct young people and injured veterans. Some of those he’s taught find themselves so obsessed with catching a fish, Humphreys has to offer two words of advice: Look up. He tells them to look at the hemlocks, at the sunlight peeking through their boughs, at the magnolias in the distance. See the sky, listen to the brook, relax in the crystal waters. Humphreys feels God there. “There is no stress,” he says. “There are no tensions.”
Humphreys has traveled to world championships, penned two books, and hosted an ESPN series. Still, when the husband-wife team of Lucas and Meigan Bell approached him with the idea of a film, he was surprised his story would be interesting to a wide audience. Lucas Bell ’02 met Humphreys while filming a history of the angling program as a film student at Penn State. After reconnecting with him last year at a fly-fishing show (the Bells, too, are aficionados), he had the idea for the project. His wife was sold soon after meeting Humphreys.
“Within a few minutes you get it,” she says. “You’re laughing, you’re charmed, you’re entertained and you suddenly realize why he is such a great man.”
Alumni Association members should keep an eye out for our Sept./Oct. 2016 issue, which should be arriving any day. From the photo on the right, it looks like Sneezy the Penn State squirrel already has her paws on one. Sneezy is featured on the cover, along with student Mary Krupa, who is widely known as “The Squirrel Whisperer.”
Krupa, who is set to graduate this December, befriended Sneezy on the Old Main lawn as a freshman; since then, the pair have made headlines around the world for their adorable photos. But what people don’t know about their friendship is that it’s also empowered Krupa to tackle her Asperger’s at a critical time. Read about her incredible college journey starting on p. 28.
In “Kelly Ayotte Makes Her Case,” Ryan Jones profiles one of the most prominent female Republicans in the country. Learn about how Ayotte ’90 is more than ready to fight for her place in the party starting on p. 36. Also in the magazine is a feature on student group World in Conversation, the Penn State program that’s bridging ethnic, religious, and national divides—all through meaningful dialogue.
More from this issue: a documentary on legendary fly fisherman Joe Humphreys ’58, ’63g; a chat with the 2016-17 Penn State Laureate; fun photography with volleyball superstar Haleigh Washington; and a lesson on playing Pokémon Go around campuses.
Have some thoughts about the new issue? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Downey, senior editor
His older brother loved to race bikes, and so, as a boy of only 5 or 6, Matt Baranoski found himself dragged along to the track. He was technically too young to join in, but he knew how to ride, and it hardly seemed fair to make a kid that age sit and watch while the older boys had all the fun. So his parents asked, and the folks in charge at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome said sure, and an exception was made.
Fifteen years and a cabinet-full of trophies later, the exception seems to have worked out pretty well.
It’s late April as Baranoski tells the story by phone from suburban Toronto, where he’s part of a select group of cyclists training at a sparkling new Canadian cycling center. It’s among the best facilities of its kind in the world, and the elite competition is exactly what he needs as he works to peak in time for Rio. “It’s always good to be pushed,” he says.
In truth, Baranoski doesn’t seem like the type to struggle for motivation. A junior national champion by the time he was 12, able to hold his own against top international competition just a few years later, he quite literally never slowed down. His ambitions on the track informed his college choice: The Perkasie, Pa., native chose Penn State Lehigh Valley because of the proximity of the world-class velodrome and the campus’s cycling program, led by longtime coach Jim Young, whom Baranoski calls “a legend in the collegiate cycling world.” (Baranoski will be joined in Rio by Bobby Lea ’06 Berks, a fellow Lehigh Valley alum making his third Olympic appearance.)
Baranoski rides in an event called the keirin, which he calls “the most fun race on the track.” It’s an eight-lap sprint around the 250-meter banked track, paced by a motorcycle, that leads Baranoski to compare it to NASCAR; world-class cyclists will approach 50 miles per hour down the stretch, occasionally bumping each other to protect their position. “For the last two and a half laps,” he says, “it’s all-out war.”
Six days after his final race in Rio, Baranoski will be back at University Park for his final semester in the Schreyer Honors College; the electrical engineering major is set to graduate in December. It’s a quick turnaround, but if anyone can handle that sort of pace, he’s probably the guy.
Ryan Jones, deputy editor
Heading into the final water jump of the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 1952 Summer Olympics, Horace Ashenfelter noticed that the water pit was getting “messy.”
So Ashenfelter ’49, ’55 H&HD decided to let his main opponent, Russia’s Vladimir Kazantsev, into the water first, hoping it would cause him to slip up.
It was a risky move, as it required slowing down and giving his opponent a small lead, but when they got to the jump, it paid off. Kazantsev stumbled, Ashenfelter passed him, and the American sprinted to the gold medal with a world-record time of 8:45.4.
Looking back on the race recently from their home in Glen Ridge, N.J., Ashenfelter’s wife of 71 years, Lillian, said he was never much of a sprinter—but down the final stretch of the race, she had never seen him run faster in his life.
Ashenfelter’s gambit showed a savvy you’d expect from a veteran steeplechase runner, not someone who estimates that he ran the race only seven times in his life. Twenty-nine years old at the time, he worked for the FBI during the day and trained during his downtime; even so, he was still one of the best American runners. He had been a three-time All-American at Penn State, and in the years since graduating, Ashenfelter traveled all over the country and competed for the New York Athletic Club. His training consisted of running for, at most, two hours a day. He would sometimes train for the steeplechase by jumping over a hurdle that he stashed in a bush at the park near his home in New Jersey.
And while he wasn’t the most experienced steeplechaser, he knew that’s what he wanted to do in Helsinki. Ashenfelter had the option to run either the steeplechase or the 10,000 meters; he decided on the former and set an Olympic record in prelims. Two days later at the finals, Ashenfelter lopped nearly six seconds off of his time and set the world record.
Lillian recalls a chorus of “Ash-en-fel-ter” ringing through the crowd in Helsinki, as those in attendance desperately wanted the American to beat the Russian. Despite that, and despite the fact that he won the gold, Ashenfelter compared this win to winning a race back when he was in high school.
“That’s what you should do,” Ashenfelter said. “You’re supposed to win.”
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
One of the highlights of our July/August 2016 issue is the story of Horace Ashenfelter ’49, ’55g, the only Penn State alumnus to win an individual Olympic gold medal. Ashenfelter won the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 1952 Games in Helsinki with a world-record time of 8:45.4.
At the top of this post is a truncated version of the race, which includes the final water jump and Ashenfelter’s sprint to the finish line. You’ll notice that Ashenfelter’s main competitor, Russia’s Vladimir Kazantsev, stumbles in the water (around the 2:44 mark), which led to Ashenfelter pulling ahead. Ashenfelter explained in our story that he noticed that the water pit was getting “messy,” so he tried to influence Kazantsev into one of the slippery areas with the hopes that he’d make a mistake.
Ashenfelter’s lead was so large that his rather awkward approach on the final hurdle didn’t cost him.
“He almost forgot to jump over it,” remembers his wife, Lillian. “He didn’t take it in stride. It was like, ‘whoops!'”
Despite the unconventional approach, he managed to clear the jump before coasting to victory: Ashenfelter finished about six seconds ahead of Kazantsev and clinched the gold.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor