Snow: A four-letter word

by Josh Booth – Horizon News and Features Editor & Kendra Burkey – Horizon Advisor

When students and faculty woke up for classes on February 21, the first things they did was looked at their phones. They were greeted with this message:

“Classes are cancelled at H College for Thur, Feb. 21. Essential personnel should report to work or contact your supv.”

The unsung heroes of snow removal: Hesston College facilities staff. Photo by Kendra Burkey

For most of us, this came as a tremendous blessing. We now had more time to sleep a little longer, finish homework, catch up on studying, and even play in the snow. However, for those who qualify as “essential personnel,” it meant a very, very long day at work.

But first they had to get there. All nine of them. On roads that hadn’t been cleared.

“That was the worst commute I’ve ever had coming to Hesston in the morning because nobody had traveled on the highway,” said Tim Goerring. “I had about 11 miles to drive and I couldn’t see the road and it was really nasty. But we got here.”

“Barely,” said Woody Miller. Miller, who commutes from Newton, said the 6 a.m. trip was harrowing. “My legs were literally just shaking from the trip up here. It was awful.”

While Mason says the term “essential” is inappropriate and probably won’t be used again, few would argue that he, along with Hesston’s facilities department should be in that category. After Mason and Sandra Zerger, Vice President of Academics, made the decision to cancel school at 5:15 a.m., facilities snapped to action with snow removal beginning as early as 5:30.

With snow continuing throughout the day, facilities did their best to stay one step ahead.

“We just kind of knocked things back every so often,” said Jim Mason, Director of Facilities. “These guys [Miller and Goerring] would go out about every to hours, make a round and push it away,” he said.

A Sisyphean task, to be sure, but necessary.

“But at the same time the priority for us is to make sure the sidewalks are safe and parkable,” said Miller.

The work of keeping a campus safe and functional couldn’t be done without the effort of the entire team. Marlo [Duerksen] keeps the equipment running. Jeremy [Ewy] and JR make sure the building systems and boilers are working so that pipes don’t freezes up.

Miller says that facilities staff take their job very seriously and no one has to be told what to do.

“It’s fun to watch, actually,” he said. “Everyone just pitches in and does their part. It works pretty well.”

And they had help. Since the three Hustler machines aren’t enough to do the really heavy lifting, the college hired Dean Leatherman, owner of Preferred Builders, who brought in equipment for the bigger tasks, like parking lots.

Classes were cancelled two years ago for snow, but the time before that, Mason estimates, was more than 20 years ago.

While snow like this may not come around very often Mason says he can always count on his staff to rise to the task. On Monday, when the second round of snow came through, Mason says his team was prepared. 

“This campus was absolutely spotless and clean by 8 a.m. Tuesday morning,” he said.

Tim Goerring works to clear snow from the Larks Nest patio for a mod event. Photo by Kendra Burkey

For Tim Goerring, like all facilities staff, snow can be a four-letter word. Snow removal is one giant job on top of an already packed scheduled.

“We don’t sit around in the shop waiting for it to snow,” he said. “We have our other duties that we need to do as well those days, so right now I feel like I’m behind about four days because of the snow.”

Still, the busy schedule doesn’t stop facilities staff from seeing the brighter side.

“As drought-stricken as we’ve been, this is a huge blessing,” said Mason.

If you run into any of the maintenance crew during your day, you should definitely thank them for the work they do. After all, they appreciate the work you do.

“It’s actually fun for me to see the students playing in the snow,” said Miller. “Just to see the igloos and stuff they make…Once [the snow] is cleaned up, then we can relax.”

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