THON proposal reflects couple’s commitment


By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

It was hour 32 of THON, and Taylor Hennon ’13 had hit the wall.

She was exhausted and sleepy. Her emotions bordered delirium. This is all par for the course with THON, Penn State’s 46-hour dance marathon designed to raise money to support children and families as they combat pediatric cancer.

But then came Mail Call, an event during THON weekend in which dancers receive letters and packages from friends, family and supporters to inspire and motivate them to continue dancing. Hennon had no idea she was about to receive the biggest pick-me-up imaginable.

The final letter she read came from Timmy Donovan ’13, her boyfriend, whom she first met five years earlier during a trip to Germany while they were both students at Penn State Behrend.

“There were a lot of references to the future. In his letter, he wrote of how proud my grandma would be of me,” says Hennon, who graduated from Penn State Behrend in 2013 and is now pursuing a master’s degree in counseling at University Park. “Then, right after, he asked me (to marry him). I just remember hugging him, and he said, ‘I have something of your grandma’s that I really want to give to you.’”

For Donovan and Hennon, THON, which was held February 20-22 this year at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center, was the perfect venue for a proposal. For the past four years, it’s been a staple in their relationship. For the proposal, Donovan used Hennon’s grandmother’s ring, which made the moment even more meaningful.

“I knew THON would be the right way to (propose) because it has been such a big part of our relationship,” says Donovan, who graduated from Penn State Behrend in 2013 and is now pursuing a master’s degree in higher education at University Park. “It’s always been the mainstay in our relationship.”

Following the proposal, it was not long before the entire Bryce Jordan Center caught on to what was happening.

“There was this moment where I opened my eyes and looked around, and the entire Bryce Jordan Center is watching us and applauding. It was surreal,” Donovan says.

The timing of the proposal also helped reenergized Hennon, who danced independently in this year’s THON. From that point on, she was excited to share the news with her mother, who joined her on the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center around 7 a.m. Sunday morning.

According to Donovan and Hennon, the significance of THON in their relationship cannot be understated. While at Behrend, the two both became involved during junior year and as seniors, Hennon was Behrend’s THON chair, and Donovan was a dancer.

Throughout their involvement, the two endured a breakup, but their connection to THON kept them close.

“Our whole senior year, we were broken up, but we were still working together. No matter what, we realized that us working toward finding the cure for pediatric cancer was more important than any fight or any awkward moment we could have,” Donovan says. “Sure, there were awkward moments, but we always said THON was bigger than both of us, and that actually made us stay friends.”

Shortly after graduating from Behrend, the two got back together.

Regardless of what journey awaits the two, THON is certain to remain a crucial part of their lives and relationship. They have already planned to include members of their THON family, Rylee and Dalaney Dorer, in their wedding.

“It’s just that important to us,” Hennon says. “It’s amazing now that every year, I get to have a constant reminder of how all this came to be.”

THON 2014 leaves lasting impression on Behrend participants


By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

After attending the last two THONs as a spectator, Wes Dorrenbacher thought he had a good idea of what to expect when he was selected as a dancer for this year’s event.

That all changed around hour thirty-four.

“It was probably around 3:00 a.m. on early Sunday morning,” Dorrenbacher said. “It was finally real to me. I was just so humbled and thankful for this experience. For the next twenty minutes, I drew on a towel ‘Thank you’ and just started walking around the Bryce Jordan Center.”

More than 15,000 students participate each year in the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON), a 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping event that has raised more than $114 million since 1977 for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The fund pays for counselors, social workers, music therapists, and other specialists whose work with children fighting cancer often is not covered by insurance.

Dorrenbacher, a senior psychology major at Penn State Behrend, was one of 708 dancers at this year’s THON, which was held February 21-23 at University Park. He was joined by two other Behrend dancers, senior mechanical engineering major Nick Hirsch and freshman kinesiology major Rachael Hazen.


During the dance marathon, participants are assigned a “moraler” who encourages them to keep going. The support this person provides is essential as the dancers’ battle to stay awake is as much mental as it is physical.

Hirsch learned this the hard way Sunday morning.

“I got to Sunday morning, and I thought it was later than it actually was,” Hirsch said. “When my brain realized it wasn’t as late as I thought it was, my body just shut down.”

Thankfully, Hirsch’s moraler was there and managed to feed him some apples and bananas to help restore his energy. Frequent eating is one of the keys to getting through the marathon.

Of course, there are other methods. Spectators and kids patrol the Bryce Jordan Center with squirt guns filled with ice-cold water. Hirsch will be the first to admit that a splash to the face never felt so good.

“As soon as you get hit with that water, your brain just resets. The pain goes away, and your mind stops thinking about being tired,” Hirsch said.

However, even with the food, moralers, and squirt guns, participants inevitably struggle as they dance and force their minds and bodies to stay awake.

When a person’s body and mind gets pushed to such limits, emotions are inevitable. That’s exactly what Dorrenbacher felt early Sunday morning, but he feels that’s one of the draws of participating in THON.

“The delirium brings out the emotions you normally would not want to show,” Dorrenbacher said. “But that’s the point of the weekend — to bring out those weaknesses and show how much we care for this cause.”

When the event finally ended Sunday evening, an exhausted Dorrenbacher, Hirsch, and Hazen headed to Berkery Creamery for ice cream. It’s a tradition for Behrend participants to go to the creamery after THON.

Dorrenbacher said the emotion he experienced during that weekend was unparalleled to anything else he has felt in his life. In fact, the emotion stayed with him, even days after the event.

Both “Good Morning America” and ABC News World News covered THON in the days that followed the event. The Behrend dancers were even pictured briefly in the segments.

Dorrenbacher admitted that he started to tear up at just seeing a teaser for the segments. His emotion is indicative of the THON weekend and the profound effect it had on his life.

“THON was honestly the best weekend of my life to date,” Dorrenbacher said. “There’s nothing quite like fighting for a cause that is bigger than yourself.”