The last week of March this year, it rained, sleeted, and snowed. Heavy, wet snow. Someone told me it looked like feathers floating down. My first thought, however, was about the river—how high is it? How will this affect it? Maybe that was your first thought, too. The flood of 2009 is almost 10 years ago, yet I still worry about flooding every spring around Easter weekend.
It was Easter weekend in 2009 that President Shirley and Facilities Director Ron Pommerer maintained a 24-hour watch on campus, headquartered in the Facilities Building, and it was Easter Monday when we decided to close the campus for several days. By the end of the week, the city’s sanitary system was overwhelmed, and those of us still on campus started using port-a-potties, along with everyone else in Valley City.
Students who had gone home for Easter break did not return to campus, and all others were sent home, many to help their families in their own flood fight. This was my first month as interim VPAA, and the first big decision I dealt with was to direct faculty to work from home, or wherever they were, and finish the semester online.
This was not as difficult as it might seem, since every VCSU course already had an online presence, and many faculty already used this online area for course materials. But the result of this decision has been significant: summer courses are now almost all online, since faculty have learned to appreciate the flexibility this mode of instruction provides during the summer months.
The campus culture also shifted. Students had spent long hours in March 2009 filling and placing sandbags to protect areas where dikes could not go. They learned the value of community service and the warm relationships that can develop as we help one another. In the years that followed, students themselves placed more emphasis on service and leadership, requiring service projects of all clubs and organizations. In addition, the already strong bonds between the town and campus seemed stronger, with community members testifying on our behalf at legislative sessions, and our campus representatives working with legislators to help fund the flood wall.
The landscape along the river has also changed over the past nine years. So many houses are gone; now even the old mill has been leveled to make way for more permanent flood protection. On our campus, one building still sits on the wrong side of the flood wall, one building that will require additional protection should we have another flood. Someday we will replace that building with a new Communication and Fine Arts building on higher ground—soon, I hope.
Challenges like the 2009 flood bring out the best in many people, as we work together to solve problems and support each other. Cooperation with city and county leadership, the public schools, and the university are very important as we prepare ourselves for a variety of public safety concerns. Together we make Valley City better.