I cried a few minutes before 4 p.m. yesterday, when "Over the Rainbow" was played as the Interfraternity Council (IFC)/Panhellenic Dance Marathon was about to end in the Bryce Jordan Center.
It was so loud that I couldn't hear in whose memory DJ Larry Moore was dedicating the song as he raised a finger aloft, but I immediately thought of my friend Kevin, who gave his life "For The Kids" in 1977 -- the first year the Dance Marathon changed from a weekend of social recreation into a charitable event.
Kevin Steinberg, a member of the Penn State soccer team and Kappa Delta Rho fraternity, 420 E. Prospect Ave., was a science major considering a career in the medical field. He was nice, smart and had many friends.
In the 1970s, a successful movie was made about people so poor and desperate that they would dance for days to make money during the 1930s depression. Others would pay to watch, including to see some of them literally dance themselves to death. The movie was called They Shoot Horses Don't They? -- a line in the movie by actress Faye Dunaway that referenced if a race horse was hurt, at least it was put out of its misery.
The success of that movie led IFC to decide to have a weekend dance marathon. The first year, it was held in the HUB-Robeson Center and student couples competed to win cash prizes. Others came to watch and laugh.
By the time Kevin was a senior, he and the other members of the Dance Marathon organizing committee were asked if they would like to add a charitable component and donate that year's proceeds to the pediatric cancer center at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. There was talk about something called "The Four Diamonds." I couldn't understand what that meant.
The 1977 Dance Marathon was a success, and after the winning couple got its prize, there was about $2,000 left to give to the medical center. The Hershey Medical Center management invited the organizing committee and the winning couple to attend a dinner to present their donation. Afterward, they were to be taken to see a Hershey Bears ice hockey game.
Two cars carried the students from Penn State. Just west of Harrisburg, a woman drove her car across the median of the road in what police concluded was a suicide. She succeeded when she ran head-on into one of the two cars of Penn State students. All the students were injured and taken to a Harrisburg hospital. Before many of their friends could get from Penn State to the hospital, Kevin had died. A few days later, more than 200 cars full of students were driven to Philadelphia for his funeral.
Dance Marathon grew to become a famous event called "Thon" and moved from the HUB to the White Building, later to Rec Hall and last year to the BJC.
Shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday, the $6.6 million total was announced and Thon surpassed the $50 million mark in donations to "The Four Diamonds Fund." It was the largest indoor crowd I have ever seen at Penn State. I looked around at all the people -- mostly emotionally charged students who were so moved by the cause they were supporting. I can only imagine how many lives Thon has impacted in so many ways.
I thought of Kevin, hoping he was looking down from heaven and smiling.