by Carol Duerksen ’74
The year was 1982. Yost Center was under construction, and a crane dominated the campus landscape. One morning, the campus family was greeted by a bra waving happily in the breeze from the top of the crane.
The year was 1975. Graduation was going to happen on the lawn that morning. But first, all the chairs that were resting on top of Northlawn (now known as Keim Center) needed to be relocated to the lawn where they had been the night before. Jim Mason ’75 admits to participating in that prank. Mason became director of facilities 27 years later.
And then there were the leaves. Some guys took it upon themselves to fill a Kauffman Court mod completely with leaves – the whole entire hallway, all the way to the ceiling. They had collected bags of leaves from people in town. What went in had to come out, and it was up to the facilities crew to tackle the job – a job that needed to be done quickly because guys couldn’t get in or out of their mod, and the leaves were full of insects. So even after it was cleared out, which took several hours, the whole mod had to be fumigated because it was crawling with bugs. To make matters worse, there was an event on campus, and one of the facilities guys had to cancel a personal engagement to help clean up.
While many campus pranksters were able to keep their cover, the instigator of this leafy, bug-filled fiasco wasn’t so lucky. It just so happened that a pastoral ministries (PM) student and his wife lived in a college rental house near campus and had recently raked their yard, accumulating about 25 bags of leaves. One of the pranksters came through the lunch line, where the PM student’s wife worked, with then resident director Brent “Dogg” Brockmueller ’01 next in line. The wife of the PM student recognized the student and innocently said, “I hope you found good use for those leaves you borrowed from us. Did they work out for what you wanted them for?”
Hesston College. Pranks happen.
“Students think they’re adults but they’ve got a ways to go,” said Jim Mason, recently retired director of facilities. “And so I still find a lot of joy just watching students become young adults. Sometimes it can really be frustrating for us because there’s stuff we have to fix and clean up after that happened because they didn’t make the best choices. But I think for the college, our big challenge is to engage with the different kinds of students in their backgrounds. Getting them to be more involved in what’s going on here, and helping them see they can still be a leader in a small pond – that’s what we are about at Hesston College.”
“We really don’t know what’s going to happen every day,” Mason added. “Students are sort of unpredictable and at an age where they are planning things without regard to planning ahead. And so we deal with that.”
Students are why we are here,” Deb (Unruh) ’79 Hiebert, facilities administrative assistant, added. “They are our customers and we are here to serve them and the rest of the campus community. It’s
what we do.”
Serving the campus community – it’s what they do. The facilities staff work with…well, everything and everyone, including building and vehicle maintenance among so much more. Energy management, electrical systems. Light bulbs, lawns, leaves. Toilets, trees. Floors, flowers, faculty. Drainage, doors. Students, staff, sustainability. Pipes, pickups, pancakes.
“We started our pancake feed in ’96 on Valentine’s Day,” said Hiebert. “One of the guys [Lyle Bitikofer] at that time had the idea. We even put up crepe paper and decorated the shop and did some fun things. We’ve done it every year since except for COVID. The first year we did just pancake mix out of the box, and that was gross. One of our team members [Naomi Unruh] had been a missionary in Africa, and they made their own pancake mix and she made homemade maple syrup. We still use those recipes today. It’s a lot of fun and a way to interact with all employees on campus.”
Homemade pancakes and maple syrup are a tiny drop in the bucket of creative solutions this crew feeds the college campus. For example, the conveyer belt in the dining hall. It was old and kept breaking down. It involved a motor and canvas that was covered in food waste and couldn’t be washed clean. When food service staff complained about the vintage belt, Marlo Duerksen ’77, facilities specialist at the time, bought a piece of white hard plastic – hard enough and slick enough to skate on – and he cut it and set it in place. Perfect. No motor that breaks. Just a super sanitary place for trays.
Providing good service to a campus community involves responding to needs, but it also involves being proactive.
“Years ago, we used to have problems with frozen pipes,” retired buildings and grounds manager Tim Goering ’76 recalled. “Well, if you get a call that a pipe has frozen and broke, and you go and you fix that, and just walk away from it and didn’t do anything else, in my opinion, you didn’t do your job. You find why it broke, and then you dig in further and you find a solution to keep it from happening again. And I will say that through this last cold snap this winter, we didn’t have one pipe that broke on our campus. We had done our preventive work. And that includes the fact that we’re involved from the very beginning with new buildings so we can give our input. We’re on the construction site every day, and if we see something that is going to cause a problem later on, we try to get it corrected then. That has been so helpful for us, and I credit college leadership for that.”
The facilities team members have assignments and specialize in certain areas, but they also cross over and work together. Their ongoing collaboration is how this department saying came to be: Miracles we can make happen, the impossible just takes longer. When it snows, everyone helps move snow. When there’s a big problem, they are all pitching in on the solution. When there is an emergency, a large event on campus or multiple events and activities on the same day, the entire team pulls together to make it happen.
If you’re just here to do your job, you’re missing out on a lot,” Goering said. “Working here has provided us with opportunities of service as well.”
With many great volunteers over the years coming through the facilities department, staff have tried to serve these volunteers by treating them to lunch, having them over for supper and doing other activities together off campus.
“We learned from the volunteers who served us, how to work with them and to grow from that experience of service, and then to turn around and help others,” explained Hiebert.
And honestly, there might be a call to pranking, even among the facilities team. When Goering was gone for several days during his tenure, he returned to find the driver’s seat on his van had been replaced by a toilet. Another time, Goering walked into the shop to find Duerksen working underneath his van, installing some sort of bright red contraption. When Goering inquired about what was going on, Duerksen muttered something about “Some emission thing” and Goering walked on. Later, when Goering drove his van, he discovered much to his chagrin that every time he put the brakes on, a very loud fire alarm horn “emitted” from his van.
Yes, for the Hesston College facilities team, pranks happen. And so does a lot of creative problem solving, collaboration, just plain hard work and service with a smile. It’s what they do.