Fifth annual Compete for a Cure raised $20,500 for cancer awareness

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By Bridget Hynes

Supporters of Phi Gamma Nu’s fifth annual Compete for a Cure fundraiser made their presence known Sunday at the University’s Oak and Stadium fields. Armed with sunglasses and Compete for a Cure tank tops, they gathered for a day of basketball, volleyball, music, raffles, food and sunshine to raise money in honor of Pam Stern, who passed away from lung cancer in March 2010.

The first fundraiser in her honor occurred only about a month after her passing in 2010. The event was originally organized by her oldest son, Dustin Stern, then a sophomore in PGN, and his friend and fellow PGN member Ellen Langdren, 2011 almuna. Since then, the event has grown, according to Larry Stern, husband of the late Pam Stern.

Once Dustin graduated in 2012, Larry’s younger sons, Alec Stern, 2013 alumnus, and Ryan Stern, junior in Media, took over many of the planning duties for the event.

“This is the most amount of people we’ve had at the event in five years. I know my wife is smiling now from ear to ear at what her sons have been able to accomplish,” Larry said.

Compete for a Cure has now raised a total of $80,000 since the first fundraiser in 2010, thanks to this year’s grand total of $20,500 raised.

Of the $20,500, 25 percent will go to the American Lung Association and 75 percent to Keshet, a Jewish special education program in the north suburbs of Chicago. Pam Stern was a special education teacher at Keshet. Larry said they thought it was a perfect fit to honor Pam’s passion for helping others.

The Stern family will be setting up a two-fold Pam Stern Award to Keshet. The first part is a $10,000 scholarship so that one family can send its child to Keshet, and the second part involves awarding a teacher of the year and an aide of the year with a $1,000 award. This will continue for five years, according to Larry.

The money going to the American Lung Association will help fund specifically selected researchers in their work against lung cancer, which is responsible for about one-third of cancer deaths in America, as well as continuing to support a lung health hotline (1-800-LUNG-USA), said Meghan Miller, executive director of the American Lung Association in greater Chicago. Each researcher that is chosen by the American Lung Association to receive a Lung Cancer Discovery Award is asked to make a two-year commitment to research and receives $100,000 per year for their research, she said. The lung health line is a completely free service, staffed by nurses and respiratory therapists, and according to Miller, is a real resource for those who are newly diagnosed to get information about treatments and other concerns.

Miller said that something unique about Compete for the Cure is that it is led completely by volunteer organizers.

“We have a few of these per year that give to the American Lung Association, but what’s really special about this one is the way the family has gotten involved and the University has gotten involved,” she said.

Alec Stern, Pam Stern’s middle son, was a freshman at the University for the first fundraiser, and although he was not in PGN during his time here, he has contributed to the organization of the event.

In the past, Alec had been part of the musical entertainment for the event by singing and playing guitar or piano with different groups of friends from the University. However, this year he was just an observer. Alec jokingly said that if the event went badly this year, it was because he wasn’t performing.

“You can’t beat the first year when we put it together in three weeks. We had no idea if anyone was going to show up, we were just doing it to keep our sanity and put something together in honor of my mom, and it was a huge success. That first year was really just our friends, but the passion was there,” he said.

Sammy Ruggiero, sophomore in Business, said she started going to the event last year to support her good friend Alana Goldstein, sophomore in Social Work and niece of Pam Stern. Ruggiero said she played volleyball last year, but this year she was just “here to hang.”

She said she and her team last year are still friends with some of the guys they met playing volleyball at the fundraiser. Her favorite part about the event is that teams are not necessarily only made up of people from a certain sorority or fraternity.

“It’s just people who want to have fun,” she said.

Primo Mershon, 2012 alumnus and former member of PGN, said he has similar positive memories from past fundraisers. Mershon was in attendance for the first fundraiser, and he was Dustin’s roommate his senior year. On Sunday, he was back for his fifth year at the fundraiser.

“We jammed five guys into a car to come down here, four were in PGN during their time here” he said.

Mershon said his favorite memory from the past years was watching former University basketball player Meyers Leonard dunk on one of his friends, Jordan Twardowski, 2011 alumnus, during a game. Leonard and a couple friends had been playing basketball on the court before the fundraiser and then decided to join in, according to Mershon.

Meghan Ryan, senior in Business, chaired the event as a sophomore in 2012 when participants raised $27,000.

“I think Dustin’s entire pledge class came down this year, people flying in from Jersey and DC,” Ryan said.

Both Larry and all three of his sons expressed a desire for Compete for a Cure to continue growing and perhaps someday reach a national level. Larry said he would love to see Compete for a Cure or something similar to it spread out throughout the nation on other college campuses where Phi Gamma Nu can facilitate it and continue to provide research for a fight that needs assistance.

“I have the same hope for any kind of cancer, not just lung cancer — that it becomes eradicated — that we don’t have to worry about it and lose so many fantastic people. My wife never smoked and still got lung cancer,” he said. “The more money we can put towards cancer research, the closer we get to eventually getting rid of some of these cancers.”

Dustin said that because Ryan will be graduating next year, he doesn’t expect PGN to continue this fundraiser in their mom’s name, but he hopes that the event itself will continue.

“I want it to be something that the PGN family needs at the moment,” Dustin said. “If someone in the PGN family has a situation like I did as a sophomore, there’s no reason why this event can’t go towards that.”

Bridget can be reached at [email protected]