Held in the White Building, more than 300 couples participated in the 1980 version of THON, raising more than $86,000. Leading that charge was Overall Chair, Mike Richardson, ’81 Bus, who describes that role as “one of the proudest experiences I’ve had in my life.”
Fast forward: THON 2020 was held in the Bryce Jordan Center with more than 700 dancer couples, raising $11,696.942.38.
Returning for the first time in 40 years, Richardson was back to see it.
“As a dancer in 1979 and Overall Chair in 1980, I saw the early power of the event and the way it pulled the campus and individuals together around a common goal and effort. There was a purpose, and pride, when you were either involved or aware of THON,” Richardson said. “To see the growth and breadth of the event 40 years later only confirms what I experienced in those early years.”
As Richardson approached semi-retirement, he knew he wanted to give back in a charitable way and immediately thought of THON. That is when he decided to go back to THON this past year on his 40th anniversary as chair.
“I was blown away by the growth and professionalism and spirit of the event and the effort and enthusiasm of the students. This role [the Alumni Events Director] opened a few months later and I knew I had to apply,” Richardson said.
In August, Richardson was elected to the Dance Marathon Alumni Interest Group’s Board of Directors as the Alumni Events Director. This role is responsible for uniting and inspiring fundraising events from THON alumni across the country/world and works closely with the THON Alumni Engagement Director and Penn State Alumni Association Chapters.
Richardson hopes to help alumni event leaders with sharing of best practices, publicizing successes, and creating and refining tools for new events, so that there is a toolkit for these leaders.
“Working together and supporting each event against the backdrop and challenge of fundraising in our current environment will be critical for the next several months until we have a vaccine [for COVID-19],” Richardson said.
Many skills and experiences that Richardson had with THON impacted his life after college – working in teams, leading teams, public speaking and event planning to name a few. Over the last 20 years, which included a great deal of travel with work, he was often shocked at how many non-Penn Staters had heard of THON.
“It has grown into something I certainly didn’t imagine in my earlier years,” he said.
Reminiscing on his entire experience, Richardson recalls his most impactful connection – one his committee established with a Four Diamonds family and their son who was diagnosed with cancer.
“Tragically he passed away after that year's THON,” Richardson said. “But the empathy and caring both sides showed to each other is something I've tried to carry into all of my interactions with people.”
To learn more about the DMAIG Board of Directors, click here.