The Daily Illini

Phi Gamma Nu continues annual fundraiser, Compete for a Cure

By Bridget Hynes

Pam Stern lost her battle with lung cancer on March 31, 2010. Within three days, her oldest son, 2012 alumnus Dustin Stern, began planning a fundraiser in her honor as a philanthropy for his professional business fraternity, Phi Gamma Nu (PGN). 

This year, the fifth annual Compete for a Cure will be held on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Oak and Stadium fields. Signups for the fundraiser are open until 12 p.m. on Friday and costs $10 to attend and $15 to play.  

Before his mom was diagnosed with lung cancer, Dustin worked alongside other fraternity members on PGN’s philanthropy committee, and after his mom’s diagnosis in early February 2010, he said he knew he wanted lung cancer research to be the philanthropy’s cause. With the help of everyone in the fraternity, especially those on the philanthropy committee and the chair of the committee, 2011 alumna Ellen Langdren, his vision became a reality. 

“It was really, really hard to come back to school and focus on everything after my mom passed, but this project kept me going, brought me back and was incredibly therapeutic,” Dustin said. “I just really wanted to build this up to something that would honor my mom.”

The first Compete for a Cure fundraiser, now annually hosted by PGN and the Pam Stern Legacy of Hope Foundation, was held May 2, 2010, and had more than 400 attendees. The event featured a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, a 6-on-6 volleyball tournament, raffles, food and live music. It raised $8,000 for lung cancer research that year.

“A lot of the seniors came up to me and said this was the greatest event they had ever been a part of in the fraternity,” Dustin said. “That was incredibly humbling — just the way the entire community rallied around me when I really needed it.” 

Dustin’s younger brother, Ryan Stern, current president of PGN and junior in Media, arrived at the University in 2011 and pledged PGN in the spring of 2012 when Dustin was a senior. He alleviated any worries about the future of the fundraiser and has been involved with the planning of Compete for a Cure ever since, even chairing the 2013 event. 

Ryan said he and his family did not want the fundraiser to be a somber event, but rather a celebration that would reflect his mom’s caring spirit and passion for changing the lives of others. 

“She was an angel,” Ryan said. “As a pre-school as well as special education teacher, all that she lived for was helping others. Although her brains and power could have taken her to much higher so-called ‘success,’ she didn’t care about any of that.” 

During its four-year existence, the fundraiser has raised more than $60,000 for both lung cancer research and special education.  

“Over the past years, we’ve moved less towards giving the money to cancer research, because we feel that didn’t define my mom. We feel what defined my mom was her passion and her legacy, so we wanted to move towards special education,” Ryan said.

However, part of the money always goes to the American Lung Association, he said. After last year’s fundraiser, the American Lung Association actually reached out to PGN and the Pam Stern Legacy of Hope Foundation and asked to partner with them for this year’s event. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds this Sunday will go to the American Lung Association and 75 percent will go to Keshet, a Jewish Special Education program in the Northern suburbs of Chicago. 

Ryan said he might participate in the volleyball tournament for the first time this year, because Marie Bongiorno, junior in LAS, is chairing Compete for a Cure and running the majority of the event. 

Bongiorno, who has participated in the fundraiser in the past and is a good family friend of the Sterns, said the fundraiser works because it is a cause that is really close to all of their hearts.

“This is a philanthropy event for a woman who passed away four years ago, but we’re not mourning,” she said. “We’re celebrating the life that she had and everything that she worked for and celebrating the work that she did in her life.”

Bridget can be reached at [email protected]

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