Women in sparkly dresses and men sporting ties filled Pewter Hall in Brownstown on Saturday evening.

Candles lit up the tables, drinks and food were aplenty and the band was ready to hype the dance floor for the 43rd annual cancer benefit gala dinner and dance.

Organized by the Seymour chapter of Phi Beta Psi, Theta Omega Chapter, the event raises money for the sorority’s national project for cancer research through ticket sales and penny votes for the cancer queen candidates.

Themed “A Cabana Sunset Celebration,” about 330 people were expected to attend, raising about $4,500.

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“It means a lot to me to see people come out for that cause,” said Dana Byrkett, a Seymour resident who lost her husband of 31 years to colon cancer in April.

In 2014, Theta Omega helped raise $23,750 to go toward cancer research through the dance and its other fundraisers.

That helped the sorority’s national organization raise $324,780, which was given to six doctors as research grants.

Taryn Rockey, co-chairwoman of the dance committee, said helping organize the dance for such a good cause is a passion of hers and she hopes the fundraising that goes to research will one day lead to a cancer cure.

“I may need that research for my child or my best friend,” she said. “My dad is a cancer survivor. My mother-in-law is a two-time cancer survivor and friends with the sorority have been touched by cancer — it touches everybody.”

Organizers of the event also hold a raffle for goodie baskets filled with gift certificates to local businesses and restaurants. The funds through the raffle are given to a local cancer patient.

This year, Kalee Alberring, a seven-year Phi Beta Psi Sorority member who lives in Seymour, will receive that money to help with medical bills.

A picture of Alberring, diagnosed with 2 Classical Hodgkins Lymphoma on Aug. 8, was part of the centerpiece for each table at Pewter Hall.

“We always pick someone from the community fighting cancer to receive financial assistance,” said Cori Vaughn, another one of the event’s organizers. 

Vaughn said Alberring, who is originally from Scottsburg, has been receiving chemotherapy treatments since September.

Besides the dinner and dancing, six Jackson County high school seniors were honored for their contributions to fundraising efforts. The candidates each year gather penny votes, and the one who receives the most pennies becomes the cancer queen for the dance.

The girls, who sat out cans at local businesses with their picture and their cause, raised a total of about $7,750. They also sent out letters to family, friends and local businesses requesting donations.

Brownstown Central High School senior Brycelyn Ruddick was crowned the cancer queen for raising the most funds.

The other queen candidates who took the stage were Seymour High School Macy Hall, Mariah Lewis, Kennedy Richart and Alexis Thomasma and Maeleigh Tidd from Brownstown Central.

Hall said she chose to set out cans at a Chinese restaurant, gas stations and her mom’s work.

She soon discovered pennies weren’t the only coins being put inside her cans.

“Most of the people gave $20 or something like that,” the 17-year-old said. “They knew it was for a good cause.” 

Hall said her aunt in Florida just recently received some good news about her cancer battle, and that made Saturday night’s event even more special for Hall.

“She got a letter a few weeks ago, and it’s completely gone,” she said of her aunt’s cancer.

Tidd said she raised about $1,650 through her efforts. Though that part of the event is important, she said she was also looking forward to a fun night at the gala.

“I grew up with every single one of these girls, so I’m excited to get down with it on the dance floor,” she said.

Other attendees either put on their dancing shoes or mingled among and visited each other.

Becky Hackman said this was the second year in a row she has accompanied her sister, Kathy Cunningham, to the dance.

The two Brownstown residents joked because it’s also the second year in a row Cunningham’s husband was sick and couldn’t go, so Hackman stepped in as a replacement. Instead of flowers, Hackman said Cunningham brought her a magazine.

“She said, ‘Well, you want to go to the dance again tonight?'” Hackman said of her sister “And here I am!”

Cunningham said she returns each year because she knows the money she spends on a ticket will find it’s way to help others in need.

“I had a friend who had cancer and passed away, so I just think it’s a good cause where the money goes and that’s why I come,” Cunningham said.

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