I am sure I will remember the storms of the summer of 2019 for a long time, not as a whipping from Mother Nature but as an opportunity to witness the resilience, the kindness and the blessings of living in this community.
The storms arrived with a fierceness – and frequency – that required us to stop our busyness, even if just for a moment. Perhaps, if you are like me, you actually stopped to count your blessings.
In those moments of blessing counting, other things began to occur. We stopped to check in with our loved ones and renewed our gratitude for our friendships. We shared a common experience that facilitated sharing stories and building relationships with a wider circle of people. That fierce storm created moments for us to help others or to be helped.
And no surprise to me, people in this community stepped up.
My “day” began the evening of fierce storm No. 1 with a phone call from our VP of Administration and Finance Mike Barnett letting me know he and his team (university police, energy plant personnel, and the facilities and ground employees) were all on campus making sure our students were safe, actively conducting assessments and managing vulnerabilities.
Throughout the night, I learned about the implosion of the wall at the Akers Energy Center, the efforts put in place to restore electricity and ensure our students had access to hot water, and reports of water damage and trees down. Our crews worked throughout the evening and early morning safeguarding our campus, removing debris and repairing damage.
By early morning, the campus was fully operational. We were ready to help new students move in to their residence hall as well as welcome our faculty and staff to a new academic year.
As the day continued, I learned that the roof was torn off of Celebration Community Church, and I heard stories of blessings and miracles and how people rallied to help. We were reminded that a church is not a building – it is people. The same can be said for the university, businesses and families.
I was grateful, thankful and happy for the kindness and selfless service all around me. The storms continued to arrive in bursts, and so did the resilience and kindness of our community. Frequency did not wear us down. People still showed up.
Here in western Kansas, we believe in the value of strong families, hard work, innovation and compassion. These characteristics also define who we are at Fort Hays State University. When one of our neighbors faces challenges, we all pitch in to help.
Upon reflection, I think what I grew to understand most is that although moments of adversity tend to shine a spotlight on our compassion and resilience, when such moments pass and we return to our everyday lives, we still watch over one another. We just do it without the need for a spotlight.
I came to realize that people who seem to be extraordinary in moments of disruption – our employees, students and neighbors – are actually extraordinary every day. We are not perfect, but we are humble, reliable and kind.
I am so grateful to be surrounded by extraordinary people and small acts of kindness every single day. Thank you to my Fort Hays family, my church family and my western Kansas family for your own unique way of being everyday heroes.
Blessings counted. Roses smelled.
Tisa Mason is president of Fort Hays State University.