Chi Omega philanthropies support late alumna and Make-A-Wish Foundation


Courtesy Chi Omega at Iowa State

Chi Omega members pose with Liz Kirke’s sister, Katie Wengert, at Chi O Corndogs on Oct. 10. Chi O Corndogs was Chi Omega’s annual philanthropy event in support of the Liz Kirke Foundation. 

Isabel Gebers

Iowa State’s chapter of Chi Omega (Eta Beta) supports the Liz Kirke Foundation, an Iowa State-only philanthropy, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation as their main philanthropy. 

The Liz Kirke Foundation is Chi Omega’s fall philanthropy, and the money raised goes to a scholarship fund for College of Design majors in the name of Liz Kirke, a late Chi Omega and graphic design major.

Kirke was a senior at Iowa State in 1985 when she was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension, a rare lung disorder that causes the blood vessels in the lungs to narrow and increase pressure in the pulmonary artery. At the time of diagnosis, Kirke had no available treatment other than to get a heart transplant. 

“She was put on a [heart] transplant list in the fall, and she was just waiting for that heart,” said Emma Gellerstedt, junior in dietetics and philanthropy chair of Chi Omega. “And following winter break of that year, she passed away on January 15, 1986. The following semester after she passed away, in the spring, for Greek Week, Chi Omega made a float in her honor. Then that inspired the philanthropy chair. In the fall, they started the Liz Kirke Foundation, and I think the first event was a bowl-a-thon.”

Ever since the first event in the fall of 1986, Chi Omega has held a yearly event to raise money for the Liz Kirke Foundation.

This year’s event to honor Liz Kirke was Chi O Corndogs on Oct. 10. Gellerstedt worked to make sure people at the event understood who Kirke was and how important it is they honor her memory as well as enjoy themselves, which is an important aspect to philanthropy events. 

“When I got to this position, there were girls who had never seen a picture of Liz before and [had] not even known what she looked like,” Gellerstedt said. “So I thought it was important that when people — not just our girls — walked into the event, they knew why they were there. We had a plaque with her face on it. We had pictures of her all over the place. It was cool to have her family and friends there because when guests interacted with them, they could see that it really meant something to other people.”

Gellerstedt had Kirke’s family at the event and had Kirke’s sorority sister and pledge little come talk to Chi Omega members at a chapter meeting. Learning more about Kirke made members feel more connected to their cause. 

“We got to be in contact with her family,” said Miranda Rokes, junior in industrial design and Chi Omega member. “I feel connected to her; we were involved in a lot of the same things.”

Along with the Liz Kirke Foundation, Chi Omega’s national philanthropy is the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants wishes for kids fighting critical illnesses to provide hope and strength to keep fighting. Iowa State’s Chi Omega specifically supports Make-A-Wish Iowa.

“Make-A-Wish is like a big partnership with Chi Omega; we’re very lucky to be a part of that partnership, and as an organization, Chi O has raised over $20 million and volunteered over one million hours since 2002,” Gellerstedt said. “It’s cool we get to support Make-A-Wish of Iowa … it’s cool to know that we’re making an impact on kids within our own communities, and so many girls have ties to Make-A-Wish.”

Multiple members have had family members who have received a wish — connecting them even further to the cause — including Chi Omega’s President, Makenzi Zikas.

“My experience with the Make-A-Wish Foundation began when I was in eighth grade when my brother’s wish was granted,” Zikas said. “My family traveled to Hawaii so my brother could golf at a PGA tour golf course. This trip gave my family a glimpse of hope during a very scary time, so I truly understand how significant this foundation is for families in situations similar to mine.”

To raise money, Chi Omega’s spring event has been the Chi O Rodeo for the past three years. Last year, this event hosted singer Ellie Mae Millenkamp from The Voice as a performer and had yard games to play and a photo booth. This year, Chi Omega is hoping to have a family come talk about their experience with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“One of the main things that we’re going to focus on this year is to somehow tie in an event with the kids,” Gellerstedt said. “Somehow getting maybe a family to come to our event or getting a family to tell their story at a chapter meeting, like what we did with Liz’s sister.”

Both philanthropy events provide Chi Omega with opportunities to raise awareness and funds for organizations and causes that are important to them. When choosing a sorority or fraternity, philanthropies can help to make the decision for a member, depending on how much it means to them. 

Once a philanthropy chair is elected for the current school year, Chi Omega will begin the planning process of future philanthropy events for the remainder of the school year.