It was annoying – although hardly surprising – that the local newspaper published a three-part series (Jan. 6-8) in reprise of the 1998 Ice Storm and never once mentioned the major role Colby played in area disaster relief. There are many grateful local citizens who need no reminding but for many others the record of that epic catastrophe ought at least to be complete and accurate.
Colby – especially Colby students – have always been involved in disaster recovery efforts. In 1947 students went down east to fight the devastating fires in Bar Harbor and York County, and in 1987 many returned early from spring break to work with the Salvation Army and help with local clean up after the worst flooding in a half-century. But the’98 Ice Storm put Colby at the center of the rescue efforts in a very different and more immediate way.
Sixty years before, when plans for the new campus were being developed, trustees determined there would be no power poles to distract from the handsome new buildings. All of the wiring was to be put underground. When more than a quarter of a million Mainers lost their power to the accumulating ice in early January 1998, Central Maine Power Company’s rapidly failing electrical grid diverted the Colby power feed through the nearby station at Rice’s Rips Dam. The short overhead run to campus escaped damage and Mayflower Hill was preserved as an island of light and heat.
Waterville had an emergency plan, but it had not anticipated an event of such magnitude or duration. City shelters lost power and were useless. When Mayor Ruth Joseph called the College for help, personnel director Doug Terp took charge of the response and worked with athletic director Dick Whitmore and Alan Lewis and PPD crews to make the field house into the area’s principal shelter. For the first time since the Blizzard of 1952, the College cancelled classes on January 9, and students responded in droves to provide emergency medical services and to help serve free meals provided by Colby’s dining services. Over the next week more than 1,000 area residents, including hundreds of children, were cared for. In town, student volunteers scoured neighborhoods, knocking on doors, looking for anyone in distress. At least two lives were saved when students rescued an elderly couple, already overcome by carbon monoxide from using an open-flame propane burner to keep warm.
In the arena of public service, it was one of Colby’s most shining moments.
I never dreamed I’d be a blogger. Friends know me as a Luddite, the guy who got a haircut and dressed up when asked to do a podcast. Time will tell.
It would be hard to find a major world event where Colby people are not involved. There are certainly Colby ties in Kenya, where recent post-election rioting has taken the lives of more than 500 people. A Kenyan career civil servant, Bill Mayaka ’73 was a cabinet minister in the government of Daniel Arap Moi and his wife Alice serves as a cabinet minister under President Mwai Kibaki who claimed victory in the recent suspect election that set off the riots. The Mayakas called from Niarobi on January 8 to say they were shaken, but safe.
Ellen Corey has uncovered a lost bronze plaque, found behind a file cabinet at PPD. It once was mounted on the south wall of a granite grandstand at Seaverns Field on the old campus on College Avenue. The large plaque honors the memory of Colby people who gave their lives in World War I. The stadium was dedicated in 1922, on the occasion of the Colby Centennial and named for benefactor Charles F. T. Seaverns ’01. The new Mayflower Hill field was named for Seaverns as well, and dedicated before a football game in October 1948 (Colby beat Bowdoin 14-0). Seaverns was a trustee leader of the campaign that raised a million dollars to establish Colby on the Hill. He later gave the central lounge in Roberts Union – now the Colby Seaverns Bookstore.