As the story is pieced together it appears that two of our friends shouted the alarm about the same time - 4:15 AM, Sunday, February 26th. A young university student by the name of Ricky Patterson first noticed dense clouds of smoke billowing over the freeway. Rushing over to the Gordon Vikse’s just to the west of the college on 73rd St. the call to the fire department was placed. Mr. Vikse meanwhile alerted Dean Stuhlmiller, who notified president Roth. Meanwhile another young man driving north on the Capilano confronted the same smoke, and having routed out Bernie Masterson, the men’s dorm was alerted and evacuated.
Even when the first fire engines arrived there was nothing but billowing smoke from every window and crevice of Alumni Hall. But by 5 AM, the roof of the gym caved in and a towering column of flame shot skyward. For the next 4 hours, some 50 firemen, and 14 pieces of equipment -- including several aerial ladders and a snorkel uni, fought the 3-alarm blaze. By 9 AM the fire had been struck, but Alumni Hall was now nothing but a steaming mass of rubble, charred beams, and twisted metal.
Fire never did reach the basement typing room, but the thousands of gallons of water did -- and quickly flooded this classroom, the tunnel, the boiler room and threatened Schwermann and Guild Halls with a foot of water on their lower level. Just minutes before the flood engulfed them the VTR (Video Tape Recorder) and the typewriters were rescued by students and our faithful maintenance men wading chest deep in water.
Outside many of the faculty milled around -- alerted by early morning newscasts that “Concordia College is on fire”, but helpless until the ruins had cooled. Only then could they try and rescue smoldering files, books, the printing press, a table, a chair… Bill Gable, Roger Hohenstein, Ken Bernie Masterson, Keith Miller, Bethany Spielman and Rick Willie found their offices totally destroyed -- and in most cases, all their files and libraries.
The sets that were abuilding for the March 10-12 drama production “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe” are gone, but then so is the theatre. The grand piano which was the music department’s proudest possession is now truly black -- and warped. The Photo Shop and Yearbook room a shambles, and not a whole basketball, badminton racket, or towel in the place. All of the drama props and costumes, all of the athletic equipment, most of the audiovisual equipment, and more…
Yet some ironies. The print shop really sustained only water damages. Dan DeBlock’s camera escaped injury, Rick was working on this thesis at home, the mass of rubble in what was once his office, Roger Hohenstein found two stoneware vessels and an old railroad lantern, themselves antiques, which had been borrowed for “Sad Cafe” -- found them in tact -- together with $18.00 worth of unpaid bills from the last drama.
Gratefully, we note that no-one was injured in the fire. And even though the damage has been given a preliminary estimate of three-quarters of a million dollars, we know we have lost only material things. even then, Alumni Hall was insured under one of Synod’s plans.
An emergency session of the Administrative Council Sunday morning decided to cancel High School classes for the first three days of the week, but many of the kids stayed on through the week to aid and assist wherever they could. The faculty and staff -- nearly every single one of them -- met in a special session early Monday morning to assess the implications of our loss and plan for the future. It was the college students, who had been away for Reading Week during this disaster who would be shocked when they returned.
At this writing ----it was a stop-the-press kind of thing Monday morning at the U of A --- rather than sadden and disillusion the campus, the Alumni Hall tragedy seems to have enervated everyone to pitch in, lend a hand, and once again, “dream a dream”. Rog Hohenstein still isn’t thinking f cancelling “Cafe”, but hopes it can be worked out so that it can yet be produced as “reading theatre”. The Opening Concert of the Choirs of Concordia College which was scheduled for early April is tentativelely being considered for All Saints Cathedral --- and making it a Benefit Performance. Bernie Masterson and Ron Schlegelmilch (when he wasn’t taking pictures) were making overtures for renting Commonwealth Gymnasium, and still hosting the Edmonton Eskimos at Concordia for their Spring training camp. At this writing, Rich Kraemer already has white-roved assistants leading a procession of students through the ruins in a special Worship Service on Monday. Undoubltedly, by the time you read this, there will be even more plans and ideas about “a Phoenix can indeed rise from the ashes” and “all things work together for good to them that love God”.