Visiting with the 30 members of Theta Omega chapter of Phi Beta Psi sorority, one can see how cancer has impacted their lives.
Six women have lost spouses to cancer. Another woman lost her mom to pancreatic cancer at the end of May. One woman is in remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Then numerous family members and friends have battled cancer.
“It’s definitely something that’s close to all of us,” said Kalee Alberring, president of the chapter.
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The women are part of a unique organization that impacts people locally, statewide and nationwide.
Phi Beta Psi’s national project is cancer research, so a good portion of each chapter’s fundraising activities goes toward that. The chapters also make an effort to raise money for local people and help doctors treating cancer patients in their state and beyond.
Theta Omega currently is second out of 77 chapters nationwide in fundraising for the national project, giving more than $25,000 in the fiscal year, which runs from June 1 to May 31. In the past, they were in first place several times.
“To do that on a national scale is pretty impressive,” Theta Omega member Stephanee Squires-Roberts said.
Adding in other fundraising this past fiscal year, the total bumps up to more than $32,000.
“I feel like we just donate our time, we donate our baked goods and one step at a time, we end up at this amazing thing that we do by the end of the year,” said Desiree Hall, secretary for Theta Omega.
“It’s work, but it’s not,” member Jackie Hill said. “It’s just the friendships that you make.”
The idea for a chapter in Seymour was conceived by Louise Easton when her nephew died of cancer. She learned helping the fight to cure cancer was one of the aims of the sorority and wanted to start a chapter here.
After consulting with members of other chapters, Theta Omega became a reality Nov. 29, 1952, when 11 were pledged and initiated at the Elks Lodge.
Two women from the early days of the sorority are still active today.
Doris Baurle joined in 1954.
“I knew some of the other girls that were in, and I was just a young girl working downtown. That’s how I got in,” she said.
The sorority has always been a priority in her life.
“Everybody that knows me knows that I attend all of the sorority meetings,” she said. “It’s just a family.”
Baurle hasn’t personally been touched by cancer, but she still sees the importance of raising money for research.
Kathleen Johnson is in her 60th year as a sorority member. She still remembers going to her first national convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and touring a lab that was furnished with money raised by Phi Beta Psi.
“I was so impressed, and all through these years, it has just stuck out that cancer research is the most important thing,” she said.
Johnson has lost two husbands to cancer, so to her, it’s personal.
“It has just been one of those things that we do. We just have to raise this money,” said Johnson, who served as the state president in 1972. “Cancer research has always been at the top of my list for donations.”
Alberring is in her fourth year of remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She said she has been fortunate to have the support of her sorority sisters.
“They are awesome,” she said. “Just the support and they helped me out financially, and then of course, emotionally and just spiritually — everything.”
Since joining the sorority, she has been dedicated to fundraising.
“I always wanted to help anyway just because I’ve had family members that had cancer, and that was a part of my life,” Alberring said. “Then when I got sick and everything they did for me, I want us to be able to continue to do that to help people that definitely need the help.”
Hall said she helped take care of her mother through a battle with pancreatic cancer. She realized how much money it takes for treatments, and she also felt fortunate to have the support of the sorority.
“It’s not just my mom had cancer. I feel like once you have this entity that is cancer, it’s almost like every woman in this sorority had cancer right along with me and my mom,” she said.
“It helps a lot to know that you are doing your best not only taking care of that person but helping all of the rest of these girls try to find a cure,” she said. “It just fuels your fire even harder because you don’t want this to happen to anybody else. You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
As far as fundraisers to benefit the national project, Theta Omega’s Cancer Dance in February is the largest. The members find high school senior girls willing to raise money, and the one who brings in the most is crowned queen.
This year, six girls combined to raise more than $15,000 in six weeks.
“We don’t help them do that,” Alberring said. “They come up with the ideas of how to raise the money. They do that all on their own.”
The sorority also holds two bingo fundraisers each year. The next one is Nov. 13 at the American Legion Annex in Seymour.
In the past, Longaberger products were among the prizes given to winners. This year, the sorority has changed the focus to support local merchants that have helped them over the years. Through the Small Town Bingo event, the sorority will purchase bingo prizes from local businesses, Roberts said.
Also twice a year, the sorority operates a food booth at the Hen & Chicks Barn Market in Seymour.
“We’re known for our taco salad,” Roberts said.
Theta Omega also helps local people impacted by cancer.
A committee identifies families dealing with cancer and purchases Christmas gifts, food, gas cards and other things they need.
New this year, Roberts, Hill and fellow sorority member Bobbie Sue Sweany will be joined by six other people from the community in walking or running the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on Nov. 3.
Roberts said a presentation was made at her church about people participating in the marathon to help bring clean water to Africa.
“I was searching in my mind for what could we do that’s local that would just be kind to do, would just be small but a big impact on one person versus a large impact,” she said. “My first thought was sorority. We do this in other instances — give money to local individuals — and I thought I could get behind that.”
She has challenged 100 people to donate $5 so she can raise at least $500. The money she and other participants raise will go to local people fighting cancer. Recipients will be chosen based on recommendations from the medical staff at the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center in Seymour.
“Really, whatever we can give to somebody is a success for me,” Squires-Roberts said. “It might be a couple hundred dollars that helps pay their electric bill. That just helps them keep moving, and they know that people care about them.”
Hill said she has walked the half-marathon (13.1 miles) three times, so she’s ready to do it again. She said she does it with people battling cancer on her mind, and she’s happy to be a part of a sorority that helps others.
“We do the national project, but we’re proud of the money we spend locally in the community,” Hill said. “We do help cancer patients here, and I think that’s very much appreciated, too. It’s those little things. It’s not a lot of money that we can give, but it’s more the thought that goes with it.”
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Theta Omega chapter of Phi Beta Psi sorority has a couple of upcoming events that will raise money for people battling cancer.
Sorority members Stephanee Squires-Roberts, Jackie Hill and Bobbie Sue Sweany will be joined by Cheryl Clark, Amanda Hutcheson, J.D. Roberts, Jillian Robertson and Cassidy Sawyer in running or walking in the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on Nov. 3. To donate to their cause, call Squires-Roberts at 812-525-0631 or email [email protected].
The sorority’s annual fall bingo is at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at the American Legion Annex in Seymour. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20. Through the Small Town Bingo event, the sorority will purchase bingo prizes from local businesses. Food and drinks will be available for purchase.