CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — The Penn State Lehigh Valley community was in full swing on Wednesday, Feb. 15, as students, faculty, staff, donors, alumni, and friends celebrated this year’s send-off for the campus’ chosen THON dancers.
Hope Green, Trysta Petchonka, Anthony Garcia, and Joshua Huyssen will spend this weekend at University Park’s Bryce Jordan Center on their feet and fighting sleep as they represent the PSU-LV campus at the annual 46-hour dance marathon.
Now in its 51st year, THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, benefitting Four Diamonds at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. The powerhouse event has raised more than $200 million for families affected by pediatric cancer since its inception in 1973, and is expected this year to surpass its annual fundraising record from 2022 of more than $13.75 million.
PSU-LV Admissions Counselor, THON and PSU alumnus, and co-adviser to the campus’ student THON organization, Joe Schwartz spoke to the event’s humble roots.
“More than a half-century ago, Penn State Interfraternity Council students were looking for a way to increase philanthropy among Greek organizations, engage their fellow students, and host an upbeat charitable event that could also serve as a fun competition,” Schwartz said. “In the fall of 1972, the idea for the first Dance Marathon at Penn State was born and 39 couples competed in a 30-hour competition that raised $2,136 for the Butler County Chapter of the Arc of Pennsylvania. And THON was born!”
This year, more than 700 student dancers and 16,500 volunteers will take part in the event to help others fight cancer. Forty PSU-LV students, Schwartz and his THON co-adviser, Pam Fleck, as well as assistant to the PSU-LV Chancellor, Debbie Zuech-Smyrl will travel this weekend to University Park to cheer on the dancers. Zuech-Smyrl was a student dancer at the fundraiser 39 years ago and recently beat cancer herself.
In addition to honoring the dancers, the PSU-LV send-off also served as an opportunity to thank members of the community who made substantial donations to the THON team, including Advisory Board chair and longtime campus benefactor Howard Kulp.
“In 2011, Mr. Kulp began collecting books for the St. Luke’s reading rocks program and offered to donate to our campus $1 per book collected [toward THON],” said PSU-LV event chair Rhea Kochhar. “This year he donated $3,000 — which, when added to his previous contributions, totals more than $25,000 for the event.”
Alumnus Chris Bogden, who serves on both the PSU-LV Advisory Board and the PSU-LV Alumni Society Board represented the annual “Dance for a Cure” event which raised $13,860 at its dance (lessons) party earlier in the year.
The PSU-LV Alumni Association contributed $500. And the owners of Lost Tavern Brewing contributed $30,500 — a whopping $10,000 over their donation last year.
Kirsten Mears, PSU-LV Alumni Relations officer, spoke to the contributions of the PSU-LV chapter, Dance for a Cure, as well as Lost Tavern’s efforts.
“Mr. Kenny Rampolla, Lost Tavern’s founder, along with his partner and colleagues, had a vision of hosting a beer tasting event that would be fun for many and serve as a fundraiser for pediatric cancer, and so, 'Hops for Hope' was born. In the beginning, the event raised a wonderful amount of $3,000 to $5,000. Fast forward a few short years later and its attendance and brewers grew exponentially. Last year, it raised over $20,000 and this year they raised $30,500!”
It's this type of effort that THON Co-Adviser and Assistant Director of Student Affairs Pam Fleck said has helped show PSU-LV's fundraising strength among Penn State campuses. “Thanks to the generosity of many in this room, we placed second of all Commonwealth Campuses last year,” said Fleck. “We anxiously await learning our final total on Sunday afternoon.”
PSU-LV Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson and Director of Academic Affairs Anibal Torres Bernal shared their admiration of and appreciation for the dancers, the donors, and the Penn State community around their incredible altruism.
“I’m so proud of all the Penn State students involved in THON — and the students from Lehigh Valley shine brightest in my eyes,” said Richardson. “I was lucky enough to make the end of their send-off and feel their energy, as well as all those involved — it was inspiring! It’s the best of Penn State in action.”
A video featuring well wishes from members of the campus community and the dancers’ family members was also shown at the event. Rhea Kochhar was also awarded the Howard L. Kulp Spirit of THON Award.
PSU-LV THON board members were gratefully acknowledged for their incredible efforts: Chair: Rhea Kochhar, third year, major: business marketing and management; Treasurer: Brianna Peters, fourth year, major: business management and marketing; Events Chair: Olivia Lynch, third year, major: business with a focus in health services; Alumni and Donor Relations: Anthony Garcia, first year, major biomedical engineering; marketing and social media; Hope Green, first year, major: journalism and photography; and Secretary: Nicole Barrias, first year, major: criminology.
Tyler Mantz was also thanked at the event for serving as the group’s chair from March 2022 until December 2023, as well as his work on the campus’ first-ever 'Phantoms Night' which raised more than $800.
“Before moving to University Park to finish his degree, Mantz provided wonderful leadership and showed endless dedication to THON,” said Fleck.
PSU-LV's THON dancers:
Hope Green is a first-year student studying broadcast journalism and photography.
Trysta Petchonka is a first-year student studying veterinary medicine.
Anthony Garcia is a first-year student studying biomedical engineering.
Joshua Huyssen is a senior student studying business.
Of course, the fundraising will continue throughout THON weekend. Those wishing to contribute to the PSU-LV team can make a donation here.
For more information on THON, or to watch a livestream of this weekend’s festivities, visit thon.org/.