In 2018, it’s hard to imagine Penn State without THON. But the event that we now know and love had to start somewhere, and over the years its gone through some huge changes. VALLEY took a look at how the largest student-run philanthropy in the world got its start.
The first THON happened in 1973 after the idea of IFC president Bill Lear, who expected it to raise around 20 dollars. Held in the HUB ballroom, it was a competition among 39 partners to stay dancing for the longest time. Officials manned the floor to make sure that the dancers were actively dancing, and competitors lost points for taking bathroom breaks. After 30 hours, over 2,000 dollars had been raised—far exceeding anyone’s expectations and proving that THON was here to stay.
Four years later, THON adapted Four Diamonds as its beneficiary and never looked back. By 1979, increased interest in the event pushed it to be held in the White Building. The year also marked the shift from a competition to all dancers standing together for the whole event.
In 1984, according to thon.org, “Penn State Dance Marathon was noted for being the largest philanthropy of its kind.” This distinction continues to stand today. Three years later, in 1987, the IFC Dance Marathon officially became known as THON.
A major turning point in THON’s history came in 1992 when it broke the million dollar mark for the first time. The total raised was $1,141,145.38, but after the crowd heard the words “one million,” their cheers thundered over the rest of the total being announced. In the years to follow, this staggering total became the norm.
The next few years would see the introduction of staples like the Family Carnival, THON 5K, and a live video of the event. 1999 took THON from the White Building to Rec Hall.
2007 marked the event’s 35th anniversary, which was celebrated with a big move to the BJC, which doubled Rec Hall’s capacity. As current Penn State students know, even the BJC’s capacity isn’t enough for highly anticipated events like the Pep Rally and Final Four.
Today, THON is a life-changing event for thousands of students, children, alumni and spectators. Despite all of the changes it’s gone through, its spirit remains unchanged. From 1973 to now, and from 2018 to 2118, THON is about Penn State coming together as a family to do something more important than most of us can even fathom. VALLEY can’t wait to see the great things ahead for THON.