After organizing a Christmas party for Camden kids every year since 1991, the Penn State Alumni Association didn't intend to let a distant scandal dampen the cheer.

"No way," declared John Ungvarsky, who, along with his wife, Joan - the actual Nittany Lion in the family - helped get the party started two decades ago.

The Cinnaminson retiree, 84, was all smiles Saturday as a busload of boys and girls from the Salvation Army citadel in Camden arrived at St. Joan of Arc Church in Marlton.

Dozens of volunteers from the association's South Jersey chapter, the Lockheed Martin facility in Moorestown, and the Wings youth group at St. Joan's treated their guests to a bash that blended Santa red and Nittany blue.

"It's the joy on the kids' faces," said Lockheed Martin's Donna McCann of Marlton. "You can see it."

She was right.

The youngsters, most from the city and all members of the homework club at the citadel, dug into a dream menu of hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and mac'n'cheese, served up by grown-ups in proud Penn State gear.

They danced to the beats of DJ/party energizer Betsy Fischer of Voorhees. And they unwrapped an avalanche of gifts, purchased with donations or donated by the Phillies and other benefactors. The goodies included bikes and DVD players.

"For some of them, this may be the only gift they get," says Lt. Zaida Rivera, who co-pastors the Salvation Army citadel with her husband, Luis.

The high holiday spirits also offered Penn State alumni a chance to forget, at least for an afternoon, the sordid sexual abuse charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who's set for a preliminary hearing Tuesday.

"There's been a lot of negative things in the press about Penn State . . . and it's nice to put something out there that's positive," said event cochair Dave Hulbert, a graduate of the PSU medical school.

That's where he met his wife (and cochair), Randi. The oldest two of the Mount Laurel couple's three children are at Penn State as well.

Several other members of extended intergenerational alumni families volunteered at the event.

Jay Doskis, a project planner from Pennsauken whose son, Timothy, is a 2011 grad, got to St. Joan's early and manned the kitchen next to Nick Perry, 62, also of Pennsauken.

The last few weeks "have been tough" for alums, Perry, a retired educator and a member of the Class of '74, said. "But we're not about to stop."

Willingboro truck driver Andre Johnson, an alum by marriage, was getting ready to don a Santa costume for the first time in his life.

"What we're trying to do . . . is show that Penn State is not just the scandal," Johnson, 43, said. "It's more than that, and this is what it is."

The church hall swarmed with volunteers in Penn State regalia, distributing gifts, munching on treats, and dancing to disco Christmas tunes with the kids from the city. Everyone seemed to be having a blast.

"This is absolutely the real Penn State," said Joyce Shorts (Class of '62), a retired Sterling High School teacher from Woodbury who now runs her own financial services firm in Mount Laurel.

"My family says I bleed blue," explained Laurie Sattin, 57, who lives in Cherry Hill, teaches in Magnolia, and kept the fruit juice flowing.

"I'm a volunteer recruiter for Penn State," Sattin added. "From the heart, I love it. It's the most wonderful school. And despite our recent troubles, it will continue to be."

Walt Shull, 64, a retired educator from Voorhees whose two daughters are PSU grads, said the public should "not let one individual destroy all the good that Penn State has done."

John Ungvarsky, a La Salle alum, and his wife of 53 years no longer do most of the work for the party, as they did in the beginning. But they wouldn't miss it.

"When we started, it was really modest. A few kids, and one gift each," John said.

"I think it was just a sweatshirt," said Joan.

Their commitment was cemented for life, the couple said, by a little girl at the first party who didn't touch her food.

"I asked her why she wasn't eating," John said. "She told me, 'I'm taking it home to my brother.' "

Kevin Riordan:

To view video of the children's Christmas party co-sponsored by the South Jersey chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association, go to

Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.