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Surviving the ice storm of '05

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Winter weather cuts power but creates community at Bethel College

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- Whether it meant resorting to "old-fashioned" Bunsen burners in a botany lab or stirring soup by flashlight, Bethel College students, faculty and staff found ways to cope with four days without electricity Jan. 4-7. The power outage resulted from a massive ice storm on Jan. 4 that coated most of the eastern half of Kansas, bringing down tree limbs and power and phone lines.

No power meant no heat in the residence halls. On the first night, a number of students gathered around a fire--fueled, at first, by newspapers that had been collected for recycling--in the Haury Hall lounge fireplace. For entertainment, Miriam Regier, a freshman from Newton, organized a reading of Tolkien’s The Hobbit out loud.

Warkentin Court regained power by the next day, which meant that students from other residence halls could take hot showers and sleep in warm lounges there.

Since it is currently interterm at Bethel, it was more critical than usual to find ways to carry on with classes. Some were too dependent on equipment in the classroom that required electricity, but others met at local churches.

Ami Regier’s Studies in Drama class used the library at Bethel College Mennonite Church.

"This was great," Regier said. "The 18 students and I were pulling books off the shelves and leafing through them, and then we had a wonderful class session seated at some tables arranged for a non-hierarchical discussion. The church library is a better classroom than our normal classroom.

"There were three or four other classes meeting elsewhere in the building, I believe, so there was a nice community sense in the air," she continued. "The church felt like a lively gathering point, as we ran into friends and various sectors of the student body in this other context produced by the weather. The church secretary, Melanie Mueller, was a wonderful, welcoming host--she offered coffee makers and encouraged us to make ourselves at home."

Jon Piper had his botany class meet in their normal lab in Krehbiel Science Center, gleaning some light and heat from the large windows.

"Although we couldn’t use microscopes without electricity, I was able to substitute old-fashioned Bunsen burners for modern hot plates," Piper said, "and brought chemicals and electronic balances home, where I had electricity, to prepare the chemical solutions I needed for lab."

Director of Food Service Randy Hare probably had the biggest challenge, to keep his store of food (newly restocked for the beginning of interterm) from spoiling and to provide hot meals for the students who remained on campus during the outage.

"We only had flashlights to work with in our very dark kitchen," he said. "Seeing a couple of the employees being very creative with their flashlights was a hoot. Anthony [Mack] would place two under his stocking cap--hence we began using the nickname ‘Mack Truck.’ Chef would hold the flashlight in his mouth while stirring soup or sauce."

Happily, the kitchen has gas stoves, and near the end of the week, Bethel College controller Gregg Dick brought a large John Deere tractor in from Moundridge to run a generator that powered refrigerators and some electric lights.

"All in all, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world," Hare said. "I know that my staff is capable of anything. And I want to thank the students for being top-notch people. I couldn’t think of a better group of individuals that I would want to spend an ice storm with."

"In general, this created a lot of community building," said Russ Adrian, a senior from Butterfield, Minn., and a resident assistant in Haury Hall. "People had to be out of their rooms, because it was too cold and dark to stay in them. It was good to see them interacting, being creative with finding things to do, playing games together instead of [the usual] watching TV or video games."

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