On Jan. 25, 1978, the worst blizzard in Ohio history ravaged the state, and sent the Kenyon community into crisis-prevention mode. The blizzard—which lasted from Jan. 25 to 27—was unlike anything the state had ever seen. Winds blew at an average speed ranging from 50 to 70 miles per hour.
According to the Feb. 2, 1978 edition of the Collegian, “Drifts, sometimes nearly twenty feet deep[,] covered roads for hundreds of miles in all directions, closing down highway travel completely … Power shortages caused by fallen lines, overtaxed facilities, and diminished coal supplies due to a nationwide coal strike, left many areas without power for hours at a time in the sub-zero weather.”
Beyond the terrifying weather, the blizzard proved deadly: There were over 70 deaths across the midwest, 51 of which were in Ohio. The blizzard was so severe that the White House was forced to declare Ohio a federal disaster, and troops were sent across the state to help civilians stuck in their homes.
The blizzard first arrived in Gambier on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 25, and an unprecedented action took place: Classes were almost immediately cancelled that Thursday and Friday.
“I can’t remember any time when such an overall cancellation occured,” Dean Thomas Edwards told the Collegian in the Feb. 2, 1978 edition. “No one can remember as severe a blizzard as the one we have experienced.”
However, even in the face of adversity, Kenyon students and faculty rallied together to keep the campus running.
The Collegian noted that students Doug Braddock ’80 and Mike Beck volunteered to go out into the blizzard and work with the emergency volunteer organization titled REACT.
“Some of the drifts were so big you had to park the snowmobile and walk.” Braddock said to the Collegian. “The snowmobile could go up it alright, but some of them were really steep on the other side, and it would plow into the snow and get stuck.”
Maintenance workers also had a hectic experience during the storm. Maintenance Chief Richard Ralston’s first priority was ensuring that the campus had electricity. “A lot of primary and secondary lines coming into campus were damaged,” Ralston told the Collegian. “A tree took out the power for Bexley Hall for 32 hours. Luckily we got our names in the hat early to the power company, so we had their trucks here for most of the night and next day helping us get it straightened out.”
However, one of the most heroic efforts came from Kevyn Hawke ’78, the student manager of Peirce Dining Hall. According to the Kenyon Alumni Bulletin, Hawke got a call before 6 a.m. that no food service employees would be able to make it to Kenyon and that he was responsible for preparing breakfast.
Hawke, with a few friends and fellow fraternity brothers from Phi Kappa Sigma, hurried to Peirce Dining Hall and provided a meal of pancakes and eggs to over 500 hungry Kenyon students.
In a statement to the Collegian, Hawke said, “At that time, I thought it would be over by lunch time.” Unfortunately, Hawk could not have been more incorrect. Over the course of the next four days, this group of enterprising students would go on to prepare over 11 meals for the student body.
“We weren’t bored or tired, and we used a lot of different things in our recipes. The challenge was getting the stuff to taste good when we were fixing it for 700 people,” Hawke said.
The student body was highly receptive to Hawke’s meals, with one student even being recording as saying Hawke and his crew, “could teach those old dogs new tricks about food.”
All in all, Kenyon was able to largely avoid the worst of the storm. There were no deaths, and no lasting damage to the campus; the only real impact the storm had was that few windows were broken in Peirce, and residence halls such as Mather and Caples lost power for a few hours.