Away from the bustle of the floor, a group gathered in Room E of the Bryce Jordan Center late Saturday afternoon for a moment of reflection in honor of an Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon volunteer who died earlier this year.
Friends and family members of Courtney O’Bryan, a Penn State freshman who was involved in a car accident en route to a canning trip in December 2011, gathered to celebrate her memory — and formally establish the Courtney O’Bryan Memorial Fund in her honor.
The endowment fund, a vision of Henry Montag’s — a parent of two other Penn State students who met Courtney’s father at her wake — will aim to provide alternative transportation such as buses for THON canners as an effort to improve canning safety. Within days of meeting, Montag and Bill O’Bryan began to formulate a plan to prevent other families from going through the same loss.
As of about 5 p.m. Saturday, Courtney’s parents, Bill O’Bryan and Lisa Brigandi, and Montag, penned their signatures on documents that legally signed the endowment into existence. The family was also later honored onstage, where THON Overall Chairwoman Elaine Tanella spoke about Courtney and a video montage of pictures played on the screens.
“We officially have the Courtney O’Bryan Memorial Fund at the Penn State University,” Student Affairs Director of Development Kim Field announced to applause from those in attendance as the ink dried on the papers, continuing on to address members of Courtney’s sorority, Sigma Delta Tau. “This fund will help ensure that while you are out there doing the great work you do for THON, you’re doing it in the safest way possible so we never again have a tragedy like this one.”
Many with tears streaming down their faces, SDT members crowded in front of the table as the documents were signed to show support for their sister.
Courtney’s parents thanked everyone for coming to support the fund, saying that while they were first surprised by the idea of creating a memorial fund in their daughter’s memory, they ultimately came to realize the potential good it would do for other students.
“We feel like her dying is going to institute some kind of change as far as making these kids safer,” Brigandi said. “Kids in college don’t often realize this, but life is fragile.”
Montag thanked THON for the chance to officially create the fund during THON Weekend, which, he said connected Courtney’s memory with the spirit of THON.
The creation of the fund, he said, was one of the proudest moments of his life. He hopes that by giving students a choice to take mass transportation or drive themselves, future canning accidents can be averted.
“If we can save one life along the way, just one life, that’s huge,” he said. “No one wants parents up here doing something like this again.”
Also at the ceremony, Tanella gave Courtney's family several items of THON apparel and offered her condolences. She expressed support for tying Courtney's memory into the legacy of THON, which she said would be forever intertwined.
Courtney’s parents, too, offered support to those in the room, hugging Courtney’s friends and lending a shoulder to cry on. To lighten the mood, Brigandi wrapped up the ceremony with a single “We Are” chant in memory of Courtney’s love for Penn State and proceeded to ask the sorority sisters, “Where’s the party?” — drawing laughter through the tears.
After the ceremony concluded, some SDT sorority members noted that they wished that Courtney could have participated in THON alongside them.
“I can see her smiling and dancing and loving every second of it,” Rebecca Burman (sophomore-advertising) said.
Melissa Montag, Henry’s daughter, also said she knew Courtney would have loved THON.
“I have no doubt she would’ve stayed for the entire 46 hours,” Montag (sophomore-advertising) said. “She wouldn’t have left for a second.”
Seeing the fund come to fruition during the first THON weekend Courtney would have experienced was a special moment, Bill O’Bryan said. He also noted that the support he’s received from Courtney’s sorority sisters and others has given him strength following Courtney's death.
“I feel their pain,” he said. “Courtney was everyone’s friend, everyone’s sister, everyone’s kid, so I can really put my heat out there to them when I see theirs breaking.”