Charity Week: a tradition continued

Photo by Kaity Chaikowsky.

One weekend in 1962, a makeshift structure loomed on the mall, topped with what looked like barbed wire and draped with a banner that read “Welcome to Alcatraz.”

The first “jail” was not the only major event, however. That week, legendary professor and philosopher Dr. Frederick D. Wilhelmsen organized a human chess game in the gym played by both students and faculty.

Other events were organized to raise money for many charitable causes, including helping villages in Northern Mexico and Notre Dame of Dallas Special School, now called Notre Dame of Dallas School

On that first day, the Charity Week tradition was born.

Over the years, the largely student-organized fundraising events would include live outdoor piano performances — pay per song — poker games, a dunking pool, an odd practice called “balloon shaving,” theme-related dances and talent shows.

In Charity Week’s early years, the human chess game was a significant event in the week’s festivities.  In subsequent decades, the Male Auction, Shave-Off, Killing As Organized Sport (KAOS) and Crush Cans became yearly traditions.  

As it is the juniors who run the week’s events, the tradition has also come to serve as a way to bring together a class divided by their sophomore year travels:

“Sophomore year everyone is split up by spring Rome, fall Rome, and no Rome,” said Mary Hinze, Senior Jail Organizer and former Charity Week co-chair. “You have this reunification, so that’s one of the purposes and one of the reasons why juniors are selected to put this on.”

Alison Pettyjohn and Maria Labus, this year’s junior co-chairs, have the same idea.

“A lot of times there will be two people working at a booth together,” Labus said. “And those will just be randomly placed, like fall Rome, spring Rome, just depending on who’s available for that time slot. So I think people will probably get to know each other more through volunteering at these events.”

This year’s funds will go to Jonathan’s Place, Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas and Houston-based Texas Children’s Hospital.

Jonathan’s Place is a foster home that helps children adapt to adult life as well as find new homes.

“Jonathan’s Place is in Dallas, too, which is one thing that I was thinking about going into it,” Pettyjohn said. “I wanted to do at least one local one, like more in the immediate area.”

Hurricane Harvey influenced their decisions for the latter two charities, however.  

“We wanted to help children’s charities originally, and then, since Hurricane Harvey had such a huge effect on Houston and our fellow Texans, we decided to put some efforts toward them,” Pettyjohn said. “And so we still kept the theme of helping children through the Texas Children’s Hospital and Jonathan’s Place. And to help the heavily affected area in Beaumont, we’re donating to Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas.”


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