Purdue University Dance Marathon, which originally sprang from an idea in a fraternity basement, has come a long way since it was first hosted in the Armory.

Travis Stoutenborough, a College of Health and Human Sciences student at the time, decided to pursue the idea of PUDM with his friends, modeling off of the long-standing Indiana University Dance Marathon. The first PUDM occurred in April 2005.

Renee Knepp, a senior in the College of Science and PUDM stewardship executive director, said the University originally thought the club would be unsustainable on its own.

“They had to get in touch with the health and kinesiology department and hold it as a separate event under the (health and kinesiology majors club),” Knepp said.

Sixteen marathons and over $8 million later, the organization has stood the test of time.

The organization has hit major milestones throughout the years. In 2008, PUDM helped sponsor its first high school marathon, according to the PUDM website. In 2012, the marathon moved to the newly opened Córdova Recreational Sports Center, allowing for expansion to multiple gyms. Just one year later, fundraising numbers doubled and broke $1 million.

PUDM has expanded across campus and the state, making fundraising a year-long effort.

“PUDM has also branched out into different special events,” Knepp said. “For example, we have an FTKolor Run, Grill Out Chill Out and Greek Olympics. All of these are ways for us to fundraise outside of peer-to-peer fundraising.”

Every weekend, members can sign up to “can” and stand outside a business like Walmart to ask for donations. Some weekends, committees will spread out across Indiana to reach businesses across the state, Knepp said.

Recently, there have been structural changes to the organization. Sam Cleveland, a 2019 Purdue alumnus and former morale executive director, described a shift toward valuing participants and club organizers.

“Last year started the addition of the membership focus, which was a group of people solely committed to appreciating our members. The membership track was in charge of stewarding our people, which is a huge part of any organization.”

Three new committees were created: participant communication, development and stewardship, according to the PUDM website.

“In the beginning, ... we got a lot of comments like ‘everyone feels like a number and they are just there to fundraise,’” Cleveland said. “Now we’ve worked on adding that membership track and really changing that culture of PUDM where we are people-focused and family-focused and Riley kid-focused and really just bringing it back to the cause. That is what I think is going to help propel PUDM into the future forever.”

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