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GERALD BEPKO Commentary: Another reason I'm proud to be a Hoosier

November 14, 2005

Ashley Crouse was an attractive, talented, 21-year-old junior at Indiana University's flagship campus in Bloomington who was filled with passion for good causes. On April 12, in one of those events that shake our beliefs to the core, she lost her life in an auto accident.

At the time of her death, Ashley was a leader of IU students in efforts to raise funds for the Riley Hospital for Children through a dance marathon. These efforts began in 1991 when another IU student, Jill Stewart Wiabel, heard about a fund-raising dance marathon at Pennsylvania State University. She thought an IU dance marathon would be a good way to pay tribute to AIDS victim and Riley patient Ryan White, who had died the year before.

Few, if any, causes in Indiana are as worthy as Riley, which cares for the state's afflicted children with the very best physicians, staff, technology and research conducted by the nationally ranked IU School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics. Riley is ranked No. 1 in the nation in treating complex diseases, in the top five for its Newborn Intensive Care Unit and, in general, is among the nation's top 20 children's hospitals. It pioneered the nationwide practice of helping the family as well as the child, a practice symbolized by the compassionate presence of the Ronald McDonald House on the IUPUI campus, which serves families whose children are Riley patients.

One way to measure the essential quality of a community or a society is the degree to which it protects and nurtures its children. I think of Indiana as a high-quality community of people who are familyfriendly and care about children. In Indianapolis, a good symbol is the nation's finest children's museum. Riley is another good symbol through its long traditions of the very best care for children.

Following the lead of students in Bloomington, and the belief that helping children is our noblest act, students at five other university campuses (Purdue, IUPUI, Butler, Ball State and Evansville) have created Riley dance marathons. And five high schools have followed suit (Chatard, Bloomington North, Southport, Carmel and Cathedral).

In the first year of the Dance Marathon in Bloomington, students raised a little more than $10,000. Last year, the marathon produced more than $400,000 for Riley's Ryan White Infectious Disease Center.

This year, Ashley Crouse was determined to make the Dance Marathon even grander. She also worked to organize marathons in high schools. Then, tragically, the week before the Bloomington North Marathon, her life ended in the auto accident.

Bloomington North students held their marathon in her honor and raised a remarkable $8,100. Two weeks ago, Oct. 28-30, the IU Dance Marathon in Bloomington, dedicated to Ashley's memory, produced $677,415, the most ever raised in such an event and an increase of 44 percent over last year. The inspiration provided by Ashley's leadership and memory made the dance marathon No. 1 in the Children's Miracle Network nationwide.

These students were moved to achieve great things by the loss of a dear friend. They found an outlet for their emotions through supporting a compelling cause. And they found a treasure in the Riley Hospital to make their commitment ever more fulfilling.

Young people like Ashley and her fellow students, the way they served, and the way they responded to tragedy add yet another reason I'm proud to be a Hoosier.



Bepko is IUPUI chancellor emeritus and Indiana University trustees' professor at IUPUI as well as a member of the board of the Riley Children's Foundation. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at gbepko@ibj.com.
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