St. Cloud State Helps Fight a Flood

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Kristin Petersen, a first-year student, holds a bag below a sand funnel in the Fargodome

Kristin Petersen, a first-year student, holds a bag below a sand funnel in the Fargodome. Petersen, who hails from Rush City, hopes to earn a nursing degree.

Flood Relief Kristin Petersen, a first-year student, holds a bag below a sand funnel in the Fargodome Deondre Smiles (left), a first-year student from Maple Grove, passes a sandbag to a fellow volunteer. St. Cloud State volunteers amid hundreds of thousands of sandbags.  Tom Williams 68 fills sandbags on the south end of the Fargodome. 

On a cold March day St. Cloud State’s living classroom is the floor of the Fargodome.

Dump trucks, front-end loaders, semi-trailer trucks, forklifts and volunteers dance a mad minuet in the 120,000 sq. ft. arena, with a goal today of filling a half million sandbags. Outside, the Red River is over its banks and threatening this North Dakota city of nearly 100,000.

More than 30 St. Cloud State students, staff, alumni and faculty members – shoveling, filling, tying, carrying, stacking – have traveled three hours by bus over ice-covered highways to help, along with busloads of other volunteers, including another 60 from the St. Cloud area.

“It is very much a live-classroom experience to actually work with different groups of people,” says Michner Bender, associate professor of environmental and technological studies. “I don’t think you get that type of experience in a physical classroom. You need to be outside in the real-world classroom to gain that perspective.”

Bender is taking a break at the south end of the arena, beneath football goal posts. Nearby, eating a snack cross-legged on the concrete is Kristin Petersen, a first-year student from Rush City. Her pants are covered with sand from filling bags on her knees.

“It’s been wonderful how everyone’s working together,” Petersen says. “You kind of just fit in where you need to. No one tells you what to do, but you just figure out by watching others what you need to do.”

At the other end of the arena, Deondre Smiles is part of a bag-moving brigade. The first-year student from Maple Grove is an aspiring geography major with an interest in cartography. Helping him move bags to a pallet is Kurt Stunek ’81, who used vacation pay to take a day off from his job at Anderson Trucking, St. Cloud.

To the east the flooded river is 36 feet and rising. Matt Trombley ‘97, director of Student Organizations and Leadership Development, and Beth Knutson-Kolodzne, Volunteer Connection coordinator, help with the sandbagging while keeping an eye on the time. The bus will need to leave early to return to St. Cloud by 7:30 p.m. Rain, followed by a cold snap, has turned stretches of I-94 into a skating rink.

Knutson-Kolodzne, who is nursing a blister on her left thumb, looks out over volunteers who look like so many ants among anthills. She shouts to be heard above the cacophony of engines, voices, scraping tools, belching airbrakes and loudspeaker announcements.

“You might be standing, you know, literally six inches from someone here today, and lifting a bag all of six inches,” she says. “But that bag is 30 pounds and that helps get it another six miles to the levee, where it needs to go, to help save this town.”

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