March 26, 2017 – 35,000 feet above Nuevo León, Mexico:
I’m watching clouds ease by wingtips, thinking about the passing of time and hoping I don’t get a flood of emails about how I told this story wrong.
On April 1, 2017, Ouachita has the opportunity to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Tiger Serve Day. As they have the last 19 years, students, faculty and alumni will take a day to serve the surrounding community that has given so much to them.
I was fortunate to play a role in the beginning of this process. It occurred during my “first senior year.” (I know what you’re thinking; you once believed that fifth year seniors were academically challenged, but now you know that we were geniuses to delay the real world as long as possible.) For my entire academic career, I watched the creation of many new buildings. For the creation of the Elrod Center, I was able to play a small part in laying the foundation and mission for this great organization.
I have been told that many people believe that Tiger Serve Day was born out of the aftermath of the Arkadelphia tornado that wrought so much destruction on March 1, 1997. While the first Tiger Serve Day did come soon after that tumultuous day, the creation of this day of service had been the result of many months of work during the development of the Elrod Center. Ian Cosh was director of the center, and if work-study students had been given job descriptions, mine would have been “Ian Cosh’s project gopher.” This was work that I both enjoyed and suited me.
Of all the gopher missions that Ian trusted me with, spending close to $20,000 in a single trip to a hardware store is certainly the most memorable. In the wake of the tornado, an emergency grant was secured that allowed Ouachita to buy the necessary tools and equipment that would be needed. This allowed OBU to adapt to the new and immediate needs of serving our community.
The storms had caused so much damage that none of the stores nearby could supply us with everything that we needed. After hours on the phone calling hardware stores in surrounding towns, a plan was devised to rent a U-Haul truck and drive to Fort Smith. I had served a summer at Southside Baptist Church Fort Smith, and Rod Coleman of ERC Properties secured a short-term line of credit for us to cover the time between the grant being approved and the money arriving in the account.
Within hours of receiving notice of the grant approval, Jeremy Greer, Scott Fitzgerald and I drove to Fort Smith. We arrived at a local hardware store when the doors opened with a shopping list and an empty truck. In a short period of time, we left holes in the inventory that made the store look as if a Black Friday sale had just ended. Rakes, shovels, gloves, chainsaws and more; we bought the entire available stock for every item on our list. We were fulfilling our responsibility, but it was also the fulfillment of a testosterone-driven shopping fantasy.
When we arrived back at OBU, we were met by students who helped us to organize the supplies. Soon the Ouachita family was supplied and sent out to help clean the debris so our town could rebuild.
I don’t know what Ian was thinking entrusting us with such responsibility. Maybe the time pressure called for such immediate action that perhaps neither of us had the time to entertain a doubt about the decision. This was a defining moment in my life.
As I observe many former classmates via social media, in service to their local communities, it is obvious that Tiger Serve Day is just an outward representation of Ouachita values. If you’ve been out of practice for a while, I encourage you to take some time this spring, put on a Ouachita T-shirt and find an opportunity to serve in your community.
The Ouachita Voices blog is a place for the people of Ouachita to tell the stories of Ouachita. Lend your voice to the conversation. Submit your ideas to email@example.com.