Our Riley Wilgenbusch led ISU's Dance Marathon to success

March 2, 2020

Students danced day and night to raise more than $340,000 for the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital during the Iowa State Dance Marathon in January.

Riley Wilgenbusch, a senior in agronomy and global resource systems, served as the director of the 23rd annual event, which attracted a record number of students.

“We had hundreds of participants flood into the Great Hall at 9 a.m.,” Wilgenbusch said. “It’s a high-energy environment — lots of upbeat music and dancing.”

After opening ceremonies, students spent 15 hours dancing, enjoying entertainment and interacting with the miracle families, those are the families with children who have been patients at the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s hospital. At the event, families share stories about how the dance marathon fundraising has impacted them.

“It’s a great way to foster interaction between the miracle children and the college students,” Wilgenbusch said. “Something that our program always prides itself on is how much we relate with the families and how much time we spend with them.”

At the end of the night the dancers gather to reveal the total amount of money raised and this year that total came to $340,552.23. The money from Iowa State will go to the hemodynamic program — a unit that focuses on the heart health of premature babies.

“It’s interesting because if you were to look at your thumbnail, a premature baby's heart is about the same size,” Wilgenbusch said. “Doing surgery and doing scans on that (heart) requires very specific equipment and specific knowledge.”

The Iowa State Dance Marathon just met its $700,000 fundraising promise for the hemodynamics program. About half of the donations are raised throughout the year at other events.

Wilgenbusch coordinated a Chick-fil-A event in April for the past two years as a fundraiser and to create awareness about the dance marathon. He also organized a tailgate last fall during the Iowa State versus Baylor football game.

“We had a variety of local food trucks, lawn games, we rented a jumbotron,” Wilgenbusch said. “It was just a good way to bring everybody together, bring the community together and share our mission with people who hadn’t heard it before.”

Next year Wilgenbusch is eager to fulfill the position of executive general co-director. He said his motivation comes from his desire to help others. He believes his involvement in dance marathon has shaped his leadership skills and will help shape his career. As for now, he is looking forward to working with his peers in the coming year.

“Even though we are coming from engineering or architecture or business or kinesiology or agronomy, we all have this common unique passion for saving kids’ lives and changing the future,” Wilgenbusch said. “I think that’s really a cool dynamic to be a part of.”