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What the GnomeMan taught me about staying positive

Progressive Dairyman Editor Emily Gwin Published on 18 October 2018

I had the opportunity to attend the Penn State versus Ohio State football game on Sept. 29. Unlike my college days, attending a game now requires much more planning. Back in May, I organized a block of tickets for a college alumni group.

I coordinated with my husband and a few of our couple friends to purchase tickets through that block. As game day drew closer, we organized child care, borrowed an uncle’s camper and made arrangements at a campground. We lucked out with incredible seats – the first two rows of section NF in Beaver Stadium, right behind the goal posts.

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We had a great day of tailgating and entered the stadium. We were all blown away by how close we were to the action on the field. Likely the most excited out of all of us was 8-year-old Luke, the son of my college roommate Charlene, attending his first-ever game.

As the stadium began filling up, one particular fan kept our attention. He wore a Penn State face mask, Penn State gloves, and he had fashioned himself a Penn State cape out of a blanket. Most noticeably, however, was the Penn State gnome he carried around.

His seats were in front of ours, though he certainly didn’t do much sitting. He bounced around the entire game – egging on the crowd to yell when Penn State was on defense and to keep quiet when they were on offense.

He quite literally leapt at every opportunity to help someone in a wheelchair get to their seat or to leave for refreshments. He high-fived the on-field photographers and had a great rapport with the security guards.

Most of all, he paid special attention to Luke. He talked to him often throughout the game and gave him the gnome to hold, encouraging him to hold it up for good luck. Charlene said at the end of the game, he offered to send Luke one of the gnomes and gave them his contact information, which included his website.

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I have to admit I found his behavior a little annoying. Couldn’t he stop being so distracting? It was nice of him to pay so much attention to Luke, but if he toned it down, I felt I could have enjoyed the game more.

After we got back home, my curiosity got the better of me, and I started looking up the gnome guy online. It turns out, he’s a former Marine, and he fought two wars. He was given the gnome as a Christmas gift in 2012 and was challenged to get a picture of it in the stadium.

He began taking the gnome with him to all games and started to see it as a good luck charm. It caught on with his friends, and soon other fans began buying gnomes and forming the “GnomeZone” for games.

It was clear from the website he had good intentions with the gnome, and I felt guilty for my initial judgments. I contacted the GnomeMan – whose real name is Caine Brobst – directly to find out what made him embrace this persona. He said, “I just wanted to put the ‘happy’ back in Happy Valley.”

He buys tickets for others, gives his seats away when he can and dresses up in funny costumes to get people to laugh. He goes out of his way to help children enjoy their Penn State experience.

He’s a lifelong Penn State fan, having worked at Beaver Stadium parking vehicles for seven years. He now works as a state correctional officer. (“I go from the state pen to Penn State,” he said.) Outside of work and Penn State football, he’s involved in several charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and American Cancer Society.

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During our conversation, Brobst shared some of his most memorable games thanks to the gnome. But along the way, he’s had plenty of challenges. He’s received negative online comments and pushback from co-workers, which brought on PTSD symptoms.

Policy changes at the stadium put a damper on GnomeZone signage and the way he interacts with fans. Despite those challenges, he said he feels a calling to be a positive light.

“At games, we always chant, ‘We want the lion [mascot].’ What I’ve learned through [the GnomeZone] is: Anybody can be the lion for another person,” he said. “We can spread happiness and positivity to each other.”

Penn State did not win the game, but I certainly gained a fresh outlook from that weekend. I hope you too can learn a little something from the GnomeMan.  end mark

"Emily
  • Emily Gwin

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