GREENVILLE, PA. Thiel keeps hospital benefit striding on



The college has set a goal of $50,000 for the two-day walk-a-thon.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
GREENVILLE, Pa. -- Phi Theta Phi fraternity may be gone, but its legacy of sponsoring an annual walk-a-thon to benefit Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh lives on.
Dr. Lance Masters, Thiel College president, promised nearly a year ago that the college would pick up the tradition if the Panhellenic and Interfraternity councils declined to do so.
True to his word, Thiel has drawn plans and started raising money for its first walk-a-thon to be held Dec. 12 to 13.
It's the successor to the Phi Theta Phi community service project started in the mid-1960s right after the Phis formed as an independent fraternity in 1966.
Brothers and friends of the fraternity as well as some Thiel staff completed 35 of the annual 100-mile, two-day treks, raising more than $1 million in the process.
Students in charge
Steph Erdice, student service specialist with the college's student services department, said a leadership team of six students has been appointed to coordinate this year's walk.
Senior Jill Speer of Brookville, Pa., is chairwoman of the event.
"We plan to have about 100 persons involved," Erdice said, adding that "between 60 and 80 students" have already signed up to make the trek.
The money raised goes to the free-care fund at Children's Hospital for medical services provided to children whose families have no insurance or can't afford to pay.
The college has set a goal of $50,000, Erdice said, adding that about 100 representatives attended the Pittsburgh Steelers-Cleveland Browns football game Oct. 5 in Pittsburgh to solicit funds.
The amount collected hasn't been counted yet, Erdice said.
Phi Theta Phi also hit that football game each fall and normally raised around $8,000 that day.
Varying the route
Erdice said the two-day walk will cover some of the same route the fraternity used, with participants soliciting donations as they go. Participants this year, however, will attempt to hit a couple of different municipalities along the way, including Cranberry Township just north of Pittsburgh, a rapidly growing commercial area.
The fraternity group always spent the night in a church along the way, but this year's walkers will be driven back to Thiel at the end of the first day to spend the night in their own beds. They'll be driven back to the route by van for the second day, Erdice said.
She had high praise for the student leadership team working to put the walk together. In addition to Speer, senior Trevor Okonak of Pittsburgh, sophomore Joe Melleason of Kittanning, junior Kristen Atwood of Kittanning, junior Stacy Brown of Greenville and sophomore Adam Guthrie of Emlenton are on the team.
"They have great energy and enthusiasm for this project," Erdice said.
Fraternity disbanded
The brothers of Phi Theta Phi had planned to have their 36th annual walk last December, but it was canceled on the week of the event when Thiel disbanded the fraternity.
Masters said at the time the decision to disband the fraternity came after college officials learned of an off-campus party the fraternity held about two weeks earlier in which college vans to be used in the walk-a-thon were used to transport people to the party.
Underage people were served alcohol at that party, Masters said, accusing fraternity leaders of lying to college officials about their use of the vans.
Four female students under 21 and one of them under 18 had to be taken to a local hospital for treatment of alcohol poisoning after the party, Masters said.
As an independent fraternity, Phi Theta Phi existed at the whim of Thiel, which also owned the fraternity house.
Masters ordered the fraternity disbanded and the house vacated.
The fraternity already had raised nearly $20,000 as part of its 36th walk. That money was given to Children's Hospital.
The fraternity had earned national recognition for its philanthropic efforts.
It was presented with the 2002 Outstanding Philanthropic Organization Award presented by the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals the same week that it held its ill-fated party.
gwin@vindy.com

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