'Grateful beyond words' for WDC's help
When the Wadena-Deer Creek bus pulled up to Dick and Bonnie Huntley's home on March 24 and students started filing off the bus, the south Fargo residents broke down and cried. Their prayers had been answered, they said.
For two days, the Huntleys waited for volunteers to help them sandbag as they watched the swollen Red River creep closer to their home located five miles south of Fargo.
"Words cannot explain the feelings when the Wadena bus arrived," said Melissa Broneske, daughter of Dick and Bonnie Huntley, in her thank you she emailed to WDC teacher Jay Patterson.
"It was amazing and awesome to watch the teamwork displayed by the students. I don't know how to thank you, words are not enough," wrote Broneske.
Thirty-six WDC students came home Tuesday night after a 12-hour day of traveling and sandbagging in south Fargo -- exhausted, sore, muddy, and with a new perspective on how the flood was affecting residents.
"A lot of people were glad we came," said WDC senior Nathan Carlstrom. "Some even cried when we got there. It was very emotional."
During their time in Fargo, students and staff helped at three different homes, filling and tying sandbags, and then stacking them to build dikes. WDC senior Jacob Ellingworth couldn't believe how massive the flooding actually was in the area. He said in the 2 1/2 hours they were at the Huntleys, the flood waters rose two feet.
WDC junior Yalonda Nelson admitted she thought it would be fun to have a day off from school, but after seeing how the flood affected people, she felt a rush of sadness.
"It was heart-wrenching," said Nelson, tearing up as she talked about the experience, adding. "I'm so glad I went."
WDC junior Jared Sherman and sophomore Cassidy McManigle echoed Nelson's comments.
"It was very hard to leave," Sherman said. "I just wanted to keep going and help as long as I could. I felt bad for these people. But I felt good that I did what I could."
McManigle said if he was asked to help sandbag again, he would do it in a heartbeat. "Yeah, I wouldn't have to think about it. I'd just go."
WDC teacher Travis Hensch, who accompanied the students to Fargo, was extremely proud of the students and believes this was a valuable experience for them.
"The level of education for that day at the very least equaled what these young men and women would've learned in the classroom in that same time span," Hensch said. "There are times in life where education in the classroom needs to take a back seat to other aspects of life. Yesterday's lesson on humanity was a perfect example of this."
The busload of students and three teachers left WDC at 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday morning and returned home around 6:15 p.m. that evening. WDC teachers Patterson, Hensch and Curt Grenier served as chaperones and volunteers in the effort. Bus driver George Kramer relieved a weary volunteer by driving a skid steer to move sand.
Thanks to donations from the community, the group had bottled water, fruit and granola bars as snacks. The Grocery Store and Mason Brothers donated six cases of bottled water and a case of apples, Super One donated a case of apples and bananas, and Dr. John Pate donated a case of granola bars.
Ann Pate, who helped gather up the food donations, said businesses didn't hesitate to donate, it was "an immediate response," she said. Pate also serves as chairperson of WDC School Board. She was happy to hear WDC's involvement in the effort. "I think the students learned how important it is to give back."
Patterson expressed great pride for the students who volunteered. He's also grateful to administration "for the opportunity to help our neighbors to the northwest."
As the students and staff said goodbye to the Huntleys on Tuesday, Dick Huntley quickly ran into the house and returned to give Patterson a package of venison jerky to share with the students.
"He wanted to give us something for all the help we gave him," Patterson said, adding, "He was a retired farmer from South Dakota, who thought our kids worked like farm kids. He was grateful beyond words."
Students who participated were: Scott Brown, Devan Christianson, Josh Koljonen, Allie Olson, Cassidy McManigle, Jared Sherman, Marcus Rohr, Dylan Isola, Brandon Evans, Kevin Gedde, Josh Brasel, Nick Kehn, Shaun West, Daniel Suhl, Isaac Lustila, Kirsten Tentler, Holden Rautio, Desiree Seibert, Tony Ross, Cody Waln, Ryan Johnson, Patrick Carkhuff, Cally Johannes, Becky Ross, Yalonda Nelson, Kyle Beiswenger, Michael Burcham, Calvin Horan, Charles Swaisgood, Nathan Horton, Derrick Cannon, Beau Hanson, Nathan Carlstrom, Jacob Ellingworth, Mason Burcham and Eddie Lustila.