By Lauren Minore
Tony Whalen was many things to many people: A father, a husband, a friend, a mentor, an advisor and a former student, among other roles. At Rider University, his legacy remains.
Whalen, 45, of Bridgewater, New Jersey, died on March 25, from complications related to the novel coronavirus, making him the first known member of the Rider community to die as a result of the pandemic, according to Rider’s website.
A 1997 graduate of Rider’s political science and Spanish programs, Whalen notably served as president of the Student Government Association and founding member of Rider’s chapter of the social fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon.
Brandon Scalea, who was a journalism major before graduating from Rider in 2018, was also an executive board member of Sigma Phi Epsilon and worked closely with Whalen during his term.
“He was constantly involved with the chapter, always checking in on us,” Scalea said. “He just loved Rider.”
In addition to playing an advisory role for the chapter, Whalen also recently served as president of the chapter’s alumni association, according to Scalea.
Scalea said that the fact that Whalen had a career and a family, yet still made time to attend fraternity events and Rider basketball games, spoke to his dedication and love for the university.
During his time at Rider, Whalen was a member of several honor societies and participated in the Student Entertainment Council and Model United Nations. Whalen also led the fundraising efforts which went toward the construction of a gazebo on Centennial Lake, according to Rider’s website.
Frank Rusciano, a political science professor, reflected fondly upon his experience teaching Whalen.
“He was a good student, with a great sense of humor,” Rusciano said. “He was always an active participant in class and had many great friends.”
On March 24, a GoFundMe fundraiser page was created in his honor to support the cost of his medical and hospital expenses before he died, with an initial goal of $50,000.
“Tony Whalen: Father, Husband, Friend, Brother. He is the first person to reach out his hand to lift you up when things go wrong,” the fundraiser message said. “He is the guy cheering you on in your endeavors, rallying the group to help those in need and giving brotherly love at the most needed times.”
An update on March 26 by organizer Andrew Wong said that the initial goal was being adjusted to $150,000 to cover the cost of medical expenses, Whalen’s funeral expenses and to aid in the family’s loss. Over 2,300 individual donors surpassed the fundraiser’s new goal, raising a total of $155,677 as of March 31.
Whalen was survived by his wife, Laura, and two children, according to Rider’s website. According to the organizers of the online fundraiser, Whalen’s wife and children are recovering at home after also being hospitalized with COVID-19 diagnoses.
Scalea put it simply, “Just the outpouring of support and people writing nice messages showed how many people he touched.”
Donations can be made for the Whalen Support Fund at https://www.gofundme.com/f/whalen-family-support.