Fraternity rocks chair-ity
By Lindsey Eanet
Passersby at the corner of Ninth Street and Broadway in downtown Columbia this weekend might have noticed a rather unusual display.
On a stage encased in a blue tarp to protect him from the weather, MU senior Phil Oliphant, a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, calmly sat and rocked in a rocking chair.
Members of his fraternity collected donations in cans from community members walking by the stage.
“I got an hour and a half of sleep the first night,” Oliphant said. “So not so much, but while I was sleeping, I had somebody rocking the chair for me, keeping it going because obviously that movement cannot stop.”
Oliphant was the “rocker” chosen to participate in the Rock-A-Thon, Alpha Epsilon Pi’s philanthropy, which benefits the American Cancer Society. The weekend-long drive, which being in 1969, consists of a “rocker,” who is elected by fraternity members, sitting on stage in a rocking chair and rocking for approximately 63 consecutive hours - from 7 a.m. Thursday until around 10:30 p.m. Saturday - while other members collect donations in various locations throughout downtown Columbia.
The Rock-A-Thon is the largest non-corporate contributor to the American Cancer Society. Every two years, the fraternity chooses a different cancer as the focus of its drive, and the proceeds go toward research for that specific cancer. The 2007 proceeds went to ovarian cancer research.Rock-A-Thon Chairman senior Jonathan Levin said he was amazed by the positive response from the community and the MU campus.
“The response has been tremendous,” Levin said. “This event would never be as successful as it is unless the community and campus really rallied around us, and they’ve done a tremendous job this year.”
Oliphant said he was honored to be this year’s “rocker.”“We do an election the semester before every Rock-A-Thon,” Oliphant said. “Any number of juniors or seniors that are well-respected in the house prepare for the election. You give a speech, and you’re voted on by the brotherhood. It’s the biggest honor that I’ve had in my life to hold this position.”
This year’s emphasis on ovarian cancer hits home for Oliphant, who is the son of a cancer survivor.“My mom is a breast cancer survivor,” Oliphant said. “So that’s one of the main reasons I’m rocking.
Every year we do Rock-A-Thon, we pick a different cancer to focus on, and this year is ovarian cancer, and women with breast cancer are at a high risk for ovarian cancer, so this is a very important cause for me.”
Although the fraternity is not partnered with other organizations for the philanthropy, members of Phi Mu sorority volunteered their time to collect donations in downtown Columbia.Phi Mu member graduate student Emily Sternberg said Phi Mu became involved with the previous Rock-A-Thon to help her family. Sternberg’s mother died of pancreatic cancer in 2004, and the 2005 Rock-A-Thon proceeds benefited pancreatic cancer research in honor of their family. Sternberg’s brother, an Alpha Epsilon Pi member, rocked at the event.Even people outside the Columbia community came to help with the Rock-A-Thon.
Traveling acoustic guitarist David Evan Parker took the stage Friday to provide background music as a “guest rocker.”“Basically I’m here just to give moral support through acoustic music,” Parker said.
Parker played a 20-minute set on stage and sat in a plush rocking chair next to Oliphant.“Any type of foundation or organization raising money for cancer research or any other good cause is worth putting a little bit of time in for,” Parker said.
At the final countdown event, which took place around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Levin announced to a wildly enthusiastic crowd that a total of $49,155.71 was raised. Immediately following the event, a donor pledged to contribute the difference needed to make the total $50,000. The total does not include donations from alumni, organizations, sponsors or online donations, which have yet to be tallied.
Alpha Epsilon Pi Philanthropy Director Jordan Rothstein said he was moved by the willingness of the community to contribute to the Rock-A-Thon.“The community response to Rock-A-Thon has been unbelievable because of the fact that we asked people time and time again to donate, and they are always willing to,” Rothstein said. “Even if they just went into a store and gave us a couple of cents, they’ll come back out and give us more. And it’s been unreal.”