Ocean City family a big part of Thon

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Two generations of Penn State grads maintain ties to college fund-raiser


John McKee, Class of 1974, and his daughters, Casey, Class of 2010 and Kelly, Class of 2013, endorse event that “will change your life”

John McKee is so much the poster child of what a Penn State alum should be that other Ocean City residents who graduated from the university in State College, Pa., call him “Mr. Penn State.”

McKee is what they call a “true alum”: A season ticketholder, an academic recruiter for the college and the parent of second-generation Penn State students.

Somewhat surprising, then, is that McKee, class of 1974, made his daughters convince him that Penn State was the best college choice for them.

“I didn’t want them to go there just because their dad did,” he said. “Once they decided they wanted to go, obviously, I was thrilled to death.”

It was then that he gave them this advice: “You must get involved with Thon. It will change your life.”

Father knows best.

Casey McKee, a 2006 Ocean City High School graduate and 2010 PSU communications major, did as her father instructed. So has her sister, Kelly, a 2009 OCHS grad who is in her junior year at Penn State. Both women elected to work on the communications committee for the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, better known as Thon.

This year, the 46-hour event, which is the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, will be held Feb. 17-19. Since 1977, Thon has raised $78 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Supporters are looking to top last year’s $9.5 million raised to benefit childhood cancer sufferers. The money is primarily raised through weekend “canning” events, where students hit the streets and collect donations in cans, and through solicitations from large corporations.

“Every year it gets bigger and bigger and bigger,” Casey McKee said. “Every year we think it can’t get any bigger, and every year it does.”

There have been concerns that the charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal would negatively affect this year’s fund-raising campaign.

“That’s really sad,” said Casey McKee.

She continues to support Thon two years after last working as a captain for the communications committee, which serves as the face of the event.

“Thon has nothing to do with football. It’s completely 100 percent separate. It’s about the kids who need help,” she said.

“They say that something good often comes out of something bad,” John McKee said two days after Paterno died of lung cancer on Jan. 22 at age 85. “Maybe his death will swing the tide.”

The Paterno family has designated that, in lieu of gifts or flowers, donations be made to Thon.

John McKee accidentally stumbled upon the first Thon in 1973, when he and some classmates attended a blood drive in the campus center and “heard a ruckus upstairs.

“That was the first dance-a-thon,” he said.

The most powerful Thon scene he’s ever witnessed is Paterno showing up at the event.

“One (video) that will give you chills is where Joe Paterno arrived and surprised the dancers on their wobbly legs,” he said. “He said, ‘When you hear that cheer, “We are … Penn State,” this is what they mean.’”

Another video with a powerful message was supplied by Casey McKee, and is embedded in this story.

To make a donation to Thon, visit www.thon.org.

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The McKee family, from left, mom Kathy, daughters Kelly and Casey, and dad John, are pictured at Penn State's Thon. The McKee family, from left, mom Kathy, daughters Kelly and Casey, and dad John, are pictured at Penn State's Thon.

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