AVALON - When Joe Paterno wants to escape the hectic life of being a legendary football coach, he heads to his beachfront home on 32nd Street in Avalon.

Paterno frequently is spotted around town, but few local residents actually have met him.

Tom Ohntrup is one of the few people who have become acquainted with the coach over the years.

"He tries to keep to himself an awful lot," Ohntrup, 71, said Wednesday. "He walks on the beach alone."

Ohntrup, a retired electrical designer, said it was a shame that Paterno's career was ending due to the sex-abuse accusations against former assistant Jerry Sandusky. Paterno was criticized for failing to do more than report what he knew to his superiors.

"(Paterno) is an absolute, true gentleman," Ohntrup said. "I really feel sorry for him. I'm sure he thinks he did the right thing. He wouldn't feel any other way."

Ralph Tiz, 26, frequently serves Paterno at The Sea Grill Restaurant on 21st Street and described the coach as "a nice guy."

"When he's down here, he wants to relax," Tiz said, adding the Paterno usually requests a table in the corner so he can enjoy his meals in privacy. "He usually asks for me because he knows I don't (care) about college football. He jokes with me a lot."

Tiz also expressed sympathy for Paterno.

"I don't understand why they're going after him," he said. "He did what he was supposed to do. He told someone."

Ohntrup agreed, adding that the 84-year-old Paterno's age might explain why he didn't go directly to police.

"In his day, you went through the chain of command, and that was important," Ohntrup said.

Contact Jason Mazda:

609-272-7193