Fraternity Alumni Honor Brother’s Memory with Charitable Work

Alumni from Truman’s chapter of Phi Kappa Tau came together for a fundraising event at 4 Hands Brewing Co. in St. Louis, Jan. 28. Since 2015, alumni of the organization have raised nearly $150,000 to support families affected by ALS. Pictured, standing, from left, Austin Bender (’16, ’17), Kyle Deutsch (’03), Spencer Wilson (’18), Jason Ingenbohs (’00), Greg Guntli (’04), Steve Williams (’00, ’01), Scott Symank (’99) with son Drew, Pete Guntli (’02), Brian Eicholz (’99) and Jeff Wagner (’00). Pictured, seated, from left, Luke Gentry (’17, ’18) and Quaid Besing (’17).

When Scott Klasner met some of his future fraternity brothers for the first time at a golf range rush event in the fall of 1999, he awed them with a rendition of a Tiger Woods trick shot.

“Scott was showing off his skills with a pitching wedge and doing the juggling act where he hits the ball at the end,” said Pete Guntli (’02). “It was pretty impressive.”

The feat requires a certain level of athleticism, fluid movement and precise timing. The cruel irony no one could have known then was Klasner would one day be diagnosed with ALS. This debilitating disease would rob him of his faculties and take his life before the age of 40. Although his time on Earth was cut short, his brothers from Phi Kappa Tau fraternity are making sure his spirit lives on by raising money for families affected by ALS.

“When you join a fraternity, they say it is for life,” Guntli said. “When you are 18 you have no idea what that means. I am 45 now, and some of my closest friends are still those who are my fraternity brothers.”

Ask anyone who knew him and a picture of Klasner quickly emerges – humorous, intelligent, easy going. He was the type of person people would naturally gravitate toward.

“The biggest thing he did was always give me a boost of confidence in whatever I did,” said Greg Guntli (’04). “I played music in a band during my sophomore year with some guys from a different fraternity. Scott encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and go out on my own. I can honestly say his encouragement is what gave me the courage to do that.”

Steve Williams (’00, ’01) thought so highly of Klasner he set him up with his sister-in-law, Sherry. The couple hit it off and were married in 2014. By all accounts, Klasner was living the American Dream. After graduating from Truman, he earned a Ph.D. from Kansas State University, and he enjoyed his job in Texas as an analytical chemist. Things were great. Until they weren’t.

Kyle Deutsch (’03) had known Klasner since their days as classmates at De Smet Jesuit High School in suburban St. Louis. Acquaintances then, they grew close during their time at the University. Deutsch was one of many brothers who celebrated with Klasner at his bachelor party, not long before he received his diagnosis.

“I had heard there were some health items he was trying to figure out, but I never would have thought ALS could be an option,” Deutsch said. “My shock and confusion turned to sadness since Scott was just married, so young and had a full life ahead of him.”

After their time at Truman, Deutsch and Williams, as well as the Guntli brothers, returned to the St. Louis area and remained close. Following Klasner’s diagnosis, they spearheaded a fundraising event to support Scott and Sherry. In the fall of 2015, the brothers organized Scottoberfest, a family friendly event at De Smet that included music, games, food and a silent auction. A huge success, it was the first of a variety of fundraisers they would oversee in the coming years. Events included mouse races, raffles, football squares and annual get togethers at an area brewery. To help facilitate many of the activities, the group relied on support from Phi Tau members.

“It was very moving to see Phi Taus that knew Scott well come together, but also to see Phi Taus past and present that had never met Scott step up and be active with our events, either by attending or directly volunteering to assist with the efforts,” Deutsch said.

The brothers estimate more than 50 fraternity alumni helped in some capacity, volunteering upwards of 200 hours each year. This grassroots approach paid off in the form of $100,000 generated to support Scott and Sherry.

As useful as money can be, and as successful as their efforts were, they could not delay the inevitable. Most ALS patients live two to five years after their diagnosis, and while Klasner gave it all he had for as long as he could, he passed away in May 2019.

At that point, it would have been easy for the brothers to end their crusade. They had come together to support a fellow brother in his time of need, and they did that, valiantly, for four years. Instead, they refocused and moved forward, establishing the Scott Klasner ALS Benefit Fund. Working with the St. Louis chapter of the ALS Association, they identify families in need of financial support and focus their efforts on those people the same way they did for Scott and Sherry.

“Most people are looking for some window of hope in a hopeless situation,” Greg Guntli said. “I can tell you the emotion shared by the individuals that we help is one of pure joy and gratitude. The money may be just a drop in the bucket for the cost that they are incurring to treat this disease, but the glimmer of hope that comes with finding out someone else is out there working and caring for you is the biggest benefit.”

Since its establishment, the Scott Klasner ALS Benefit Fund has donated nearly $50,000 to assist nine families. The brothers have a goal to raise $100,000 for others in an effort to match the work they did for Scott and Sherry, but they don’t plan to stop there.

“We want to continue helping people until there is a cure,” Williams said. “This has been a great opportunity to continue the philanthropic spirit we first shared as fraternity brothers in college, and it has provided the four of us with an opportunity to work on a cause that is greater than ourselves. We consider ourselves to be ‘On a Mission from Scott’ to carry out his desire to make something good from his diagnosis.”

Scott and Sherry Klasner
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