Hilltoppers for Life win first national award

Kaely Holloway

This past weekend, the Hilltoppers for Life, a pro-life student organization on campus, was awarded second place for the National Group of the Year award at the annual Students for Life American National Conference in Washington, D.C. This was their first award and nomination as a group.

Bryan Reaka, advisor of the group, said this is only the third year of existence for Hilltoppers for Life.


“For them to win the award of second place is a fantastic achievement,” Reaka said. “They have gone extremely far for a young group. We’re hoping to carry that forward in the future.”

Seven members of the group, through private funding, were able to attend and receive the award. Members present were Shepherdsville senior John Sohl, Shepherdsville sophomore Matt Sohl, Bardstown junior Zach Coots, Bardstown junior Maggie Smith, Louisville senior Erin Ruppelt, Owensboro graduate student Kevin Dorth and Nashville freshman Cassidy Johnson.

The Hilltoppers for Life, started by Whitesville senior Kateri Rhodes, believes in preservation of all life. Their actions and awareness tactics to educate the campus focus primarily on abortion, but overall they believe in life from birth to natural death.

“My sister helped found a [pro-life] group in Murray with help from Mary Reding and when I came here, I knew I wanted to do the same,” Rhodes said. “I wanted to educate the campus on what our movement is all about.”

Reding now works on campus here at WKU in the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Campus Center. She assisted Rhodes in the initial organization and structuring of the group.

“I’m proud of the group,” Reding said. “It takes a lot for a group to evolve to this point.”

Their primary goal is to educate the campus about their pro-life movement. Last spring, they undertook a larger scale awareness tactic.

Their event was entitled Cemetery of the Innocent. The cemetery involved the Colonnade being adorned with 4,000 crosses made of Popsicle sticks and red and black tablecloths spelling the word “life” when looked at from afar. Vigils and prayer services were held there.

This event, and some careful paperwork, earned the group their second place award and national recognition. Sohl, president of the group, was also personally recognized for his help raising awareness, and was invited to be apart of the Wilberforce Leadership Fellowship, a leadership summit occurring during the SFLA conference that educates attendees more heavily on the movement.

“I was overwhelmed when I first found out I got it,” Sohl said. “It was a great way for me to develop my leadership skills.”

Members attending also participated in the 40th annual March for Life, protesting abortion in the nation. The march was started the year of Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court case deciding that a woman’s decision to get an abortion was protected under the 14th amendment. The group has attended all three years of existence.