Community unites to surprise beloved colleague with parade

Jeff Rice
April 30, 2020

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The coronavirus pandemic put a hold on Lori Ebert-Tyworth’s trip to Disney World.

So, her family, friends and Penn State co-workers decided to bring the trip to her.

A week’s worth of planning culminated in a parade that sent roughly 90 vehicles driving past Ebert-Tyworth’s home in State College on Saturday, as Penn State’s longtime associate director of stewardship in the office of donor relations and special events watched with her family.

Lori Ebert-Tyworth parade view from lawn
IMAGE: Andrea McGregor

Ebert-Tyworth, who is battling glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, had been planning to accompany her husband, Mike, and daughter, Katie, on a spring vacation. But with the resort shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic and no signs that it would be opening soon, her son, Andrew Ebert, wanted to do something to lift her spirits. 

He contacted Kris Meyer, executive director of donor relations and special events, and said he wanted to put together something like the small parade of vehicles for a child’s birthday party he had seen on social media. She suggested a theme based on the family’s planned vacation. Several of Ebert-Tyworth’s colleagues and family friends spread the word. Andrew, who wanted to keep it a surprise, would tell his parents he was working late, and instead go to a friend’s home in the evenings and, from that friend’s back porch, join organizers for nightly Zoom meetings and calls.

Ebert-Tyworth had a scheduled Zoom brunch with friends – who were in on the surprise – on Saturday afternoon, but when the time came, she instead looked at the computer screen and found herself face-to-face with Sam Lafferty, a childhood friend of Andrew’s and a current forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I heard about your Disney trip being canceled,” Lafferty said. “Your friends wanted to do something special for you. You should go outside.”

She did, and found a long line of decorated vehicles. There was “The Love Bug,” a “Pirates of the Caribbean” car, two vehicles disguised as dalmatians immediately followed by a third as Cruella de Vil. Members of Andrew’s college fraternity at St. Francis University drove from Pittsburgh to show their support. There was even a personal voiceover message from Goofy – aka Bill Farmer, the actor who has given voice to the character for the last 33 years, and who shared a mutual friend with Kelly Nguyen, associate director of stewardship. There were songs performed by local actors and an instrumental from members of the Penn State Blue Band.

“It’s such a wonderful outpouring from so many good friends and family,” Ebert-Tyworth said following the parade. “I’m so glad to spend this time with all of you. Things are getting a little harder, but we’re going to keep fighting and having a great time together.”

Nguyen and Dawn Weiss, project manager in the office of donor relations and special events, had started the parade in the parking lot of a nearby movie theater, where they welcomed the vehicles for staging. Then, using radios to communicate with volunteers near the Ebert-Tyworth home, would send vehicles onto the parade route nine at a time to avoid traffic congestion.

Ebert-Tyworth, who has worked at Penn State since 1998 and celebrated her 20 year anniversary with the Office of Donor Relations this month, received a certificate for two decades of service from vice president for Development Rich Bundy and the Rodney P. Kirsch Honor and Integrity Award, given to a staff member each year, from Kirsch himself.

Kirsch, Penn State’s longtime senior vice president for Development and Alumni Relations who retired in 2016, credits Ebert-Tyworth with playing an instrumental role in the development of the University’s eSteward software program, which helps the University award scholarship endowments and steward donors.

“On Saturday, I told her I thought the ‘e’ in eSteward always should have stood for ‘Ebert,’” he said. “Once it was developed, she really became the guru of it and was really central to making this thing state-of-the-art.”

The turnout was not a surprise to Ebert-Tyworth’s co-workers, who commended her not only for her kindness and generosity but for her hard work and ingenuity.

“She has profoundly impacted the University’s ability to steward its donors,” Meyer said. “This was a celebration of someone who is a great person, but also someone who has left a lasting impact and made Penn State better.”

Bundy noted that several parade attendees commented about the bonding experience they had with their families during the day.

“To me, this was a reminder that community spirit is alive and well and that people really do care for each other in meaningful ways,” Bundy said. “I was so proud of my colleagues and the community for their show of compassion and support for Lori in this trying time for them.”

The family has been humbled not only by the support they saw on their street on Saturday but also the video messages that continue to come in through a Facebook group created specifically for the parade. Ebert-Tyworth has received warm wishes from a former NASA astronaut, professional hockey and baseball players, the Penn State ice hockey and football teams, performances from Penn State Musical Theatre students, and others. The parade has provided joy to the woman who inspired it, but also for the people who made it happen.

“Our situation is not the easiest to go through,” Andrew Ebert said. “But there are other people out there in similar situations. I hope something like this shows them that they’re not alone.”

'We Are' stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories. 

Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by the novel coronavirus. We are! 

Last Updated April 30, 2020