There’s people who stick with you throughout life. For me, Paul Valenti was one of those individuals.
I first encountered him during the spring of 2002 outside of the back gate of Goss Stadium. Though I had been to several OSU baseball games when I was younger, this time was special. I was attending my first one as an Oregon State student.
As I and several friends approached the gate, we froze. Our pockets were stuffed with sunflower seeds and Gatorade. We thought there was no way we were sneaking past the stogie-smoking gentleman manning the gate.
Instead, he cheerfully greeted us, waved us in with that stogie, and told us to have fun. It was the same thing every game after that, despite it being obvious our pockets were stuffed. He could’ve denied us entry or at least confiscated our goods. But he never did; he wanted us to enjoy ourselves as we rooted on the Beavers.
It wasn’t until I became sports editor of the Barometer several years later that I learned that gentleman by the gate was Paul Valenti — a legendary coach, administrator, and beloved mentor. Simply put I quickly learned, he was Mr. Oregon State University.
Talk about feeling sheepish, and then in awe. After that, Valenti stuck with me, even after graduation. When I was fortunate to return to Corvallis and attend OSU basketball games, I always noticed him in his seat at Gill several rows up from the Beavers’ bench. You could tell he was still a coach at heart, as he intently followed the action.
Several years ago, I ran into Valenti at a downtown Corvallis restaurant. He wasn’t quite as vibrant as he was when I first met him, but he still recognized me. He called me over and we chatted briefly. Even then, Valenti could still command an entire room with his presence, and his warm smile. I remember that moment like it was yesterday.
So I was saddened to learn of Valenti’s death at the age of 94 this past weekend. The OSU and Corvallis communities have lost a beloved icon, and I hope that the university can find a way to honor him, whether it’s renaming a street, field, or court. If you aren’t as familiar with Valenti, read this incredible feature by my former coworker Brooks Hatch. It perfectly captures who Valenti was and his impact.
Join me in lighting a stogie in honor of Paul Valenti. Rest in Peace Coach. (RW)