Four Diamonds celebrates 40-year partnership with THON

Charles and Irma Millard Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

HERSHEY, Pa. — When Penn State students hit the dance floor for THON this Friday, Feb. 17, through Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Bryce Jordan Center, they’ll celebrate the culmination of a yearlong fundraising effort that’s expected to raise millions of dollars — and mark the 40th anniversary since THON named Four Diamonds its sole beneficiary. But it’ll be an exceptionally bittersweet moment for Four Diamonds’ founders Charles and Irma Millard, who can’t believe how far the partnership has come.

They founded Four Diamonds in 1972 after their 14-year-old son, Christopher, lost his three-year battle with cancer at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. (Read more about the history of Four Diamonds here.) Five years later, Four Diamonds forged the relationship with THON (formally called the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon), which catapulted the organization’s fundraising efforts and ultimately grew it into the nationally recognized philanthropy it is today.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s been 40 years. It seems fresh,” said Charles Millard, who has attended every THON since the partnership began and plans to attend this weekend’s event.

“When Chris was hospitalized at the Medical Center, they did not have a pediatric cancer ward, they didn’t have a pediatric cancer pediatrician,” Irma Millard recalled. “Now there is a full department for pediatric cancer, there are social workers, there are child life workers, there are pediatricians and nurses and hematologists and researches all doing that work. Buildings have been built and top-notch people have been hired and that’s all because of Four Diamonds.”

Four Diamonds supports children and their families at Penn State Children’s Hospital facing the challenges of pediatric cancer by paying for care and treatment not covered by insurance or other means as well as additional expenses that disrupt the welfare of the children. It also funds a team of 24 specialty care providers who exclusively serve the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of patients and their families.

One of Christopher’s nurses, Donna Klinger, still works as needed at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and has seen firsthand how the pediatric oncology department has grown over the years because of Four Diamonds. Klinger, who has worked at the Medical Center since 1972, was with Christopher the night he died and recalled reading a story he penned just before his death about a knight in search of the four diamonds of courage, wisdom, honesty and strength — attributes Christopher’s family believed were symbolic of what was needed to battle childhood cancer. That story and the Millard’s dream of one day ending childhood cancer inspired them to create Four Diamonds.

Learn more about the story of Four Diamonds in this Penn State Medicine article.

Last Updated February 15, 2017