Things have changed since Penn State alumnus Pat Leahey danced in the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon 30 years ago.
He danced in the White Building in 1985, a smaller venue than Thon’s present home at the Bryce Jordan Center. Spectators left the building at night, leaving just the dancers and their morale-building partners, while present-day crowds can stay through the early morning hours. The event raised about $235,000 that year to benefit families of children battling cancer, he said.
Months of planning and fundraising, and 46 hours of dancing all led up to the big announcement of this year’s grand total shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday: Thon 2015 raised $13,026,653.23.
The total falls short of the $13.3 million raised last year but tops the $12.4 million raised in 2013 and the $10.69 million in 2012.
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The buildup to the revelation during the final four hours was emotional for those in the arena.
Penn State senior Lauren Gelles, of Potomac, Md., stretched with her moraler, sophomore Seth Workman, of Allentown, about 11:30 a.m. For Gelles, this year’s event, her last, is “bittersweet.” Thon has been a big part of her college experience and she participated each year. She’ll miss “being a part of something so big” after graduating, she said.
Penn State head football coach James Franklin introduced 10-year-old Four Diamonds child Noah Benner, of Bellefonte, to the crowd to thunderous applause before talking to participants Sunday afternoon.
The event is inspiring not only to him and those directly involved but also nationally Franklin said, adding that Thon says a lot about the Penn State and the people that go there.
“If you want to talk about Penn State culture, look around,” he said. “This is Penn State’s culture.”
Families of children who battled cancer and were helped by Thon spoke after Franklin. One speaker who took the stage with her family has “seen all sides” of the event.
Kayla Nakonechni danced in Thon while a junior in 2013.
“I was in your shoes,” she told the audience.
Later that year, Nakonechni was diagnosed with brain cancer and became a Four Diamonds child. She said that she can now speak personally to what Thon means to sick children and their families. Support goes further than financial aid and was her “inspiration” through the ordeal.
Nakonechni graduated from Penn State in December and is applying for graduate school. She hopes to study medicine. She still takes chemotherapy.
It was family that brought Leahey and his wife, Robin, to the Jordan Center from San Jose, Calif. Their daughter Kaitlyn, a Penn State senior, was selected as an independent dancer in this year’s event. Their other daughter, Courtney, a freshman, canned to raise money and was also present
Leahey knows from experience how grueling the 46-hour dance marathon can be, and how much support means to the dancers and everyone else involved in Thon. Another change: Family members of dancers weren’t allowed on the floor when he danced at the White Building. He made it out to visit Kaitlyn twice during the weekend.
Though he never would have expected then that he might have children who would participate in Thon one day, he said he’s very proud of his daughters for taking part in something that benefits such a great cause.
That’s one thing that hasn’t changed, Leahey said.
“It’s given the Penn State community character and a purpose for all these years,” he said.