Tears of anguish turned to tears of joy for residents of Barnum and Moose Lake as they realized a bus full of Coon Rapids High School (CRHS) athletes were in town to help with flood recovery efforts June 29.
When a call went out for volunteers to help victims of the flooding in northern Minnesota, Scott Storrick, CRHS tennis coach, contacted Jon Young, CRHS head football coach, and Russ Sullivan, a CRHS track coach, and asked if their athletes would volunteer to help.
Storrick said without hesitation both men said it was a good idea.
The coaches spread the word about the opportunity and about 40 athletes and alum signed up for the trip.
Storrick contacted Kottkes’ Bus Service to rent a bus.
When Kottkes’ General Manager Mike Pipenhagen heard about the request, he offered to donate a bus and trailer for the day.
Pipenhagen also found a driver, Jim Kelley, to donate his time for the day.
“What Kottkes’ did was just outstanding,” Storrick said. “And the driver was phenomenal; he got his hands dirty with us.”
Parents donated food and beverages for the trip, including a parent who is a master chef at the Hilton who made box lunches and desserts.
Both communities are located southwest of Duluth; Moose Lake has about 2,500 residents and Barnum is a town of less than 600.
With more than one-third of Moose Lake impacted by the flooding and water filling basements in Barnum, the students had their work cut out for them.
Students working in Moose Lake removed bleachers and gutted the locker room in the city’s hockey arena.
Students in both cities did demolition work in people’s homes, removing flooring, dry wall and other items touched by the floodwater.
Storrick, an industrial technology teacher, said groups of students went from house to house asking people if they needed help.
“Jon [Young] took a group to a trailer park in Barnum,” Storrick said.
“Jon and three of the boys walked up to a woman and asked if she needed help. She thanked them and said, ‘yes.’ As soon as she saw six other football players come around the corner to help she started crying.
“The kids were great; they were rock stars. A lot of people heard this big group was in town and drove out of their way to come and thank us.”
The students’ work was so appreciated by the cities’ residents because many of them didn’t have time to get contractors in to do the demolition work or they didn’t have the money.
Young estimates the students did between $10,000 and $20,000 worth of work during their day of service.
“One lady broke into tears and said we saved her home,” said Young, a special education teacher. “It was incredibly rewarding.”
Young also shared the story of how the students worked to take apart a 500-pound cast iron boiler in a basement.
The boiler was so big the house was actually built around it. The students had to take it apart to remove it from the home.
Seeing the work the students’ did for others was very powerful for Young.
“It was really rewarding to see the pride of work ethic and the selflessness our kids exuded on that day,” he said.
“It was hot, smelly, gross and dirty work. They got to swing axes and use sledgehammers.
“Some kids had never done that kind of work before; it was pretty neat.”
Joe Rising, a member of the football team who will be a junior in the fall, was one of the students on the trip.
The son of Judy LeMoine and Ron Rising said he went on the trip to help others and because he thought it would be eye-opening to see the damage.
Rising spent time tearing down drywall and removing carpeting and appliances from homes.
He was one of the students who helped remove the boiler from the home in Moose Lake.
“When we got into town everything seemed OK and we wondered where the damage was, but then we got into people’s homes and thought, ‘oh, this is where it is,’” Rising said.
“No one had flood insurance so they needed the support of others.
“Barnum is an older community but everyone came together. They had a system where they would write down what houses needed help and then tell people where to go.
“The people in the town were very nice. They were very grateful for what we were doing.”
In addition to helping people, Rising said it was a good bonding experience for members of the football team.
The students were given certain amounts of time to do their work.
One of the final houses they worked in, the students had 45 minutes to remove carpeting from a large house.
Rising said the team worked together and got the work done on time. It was an impressive feat and the coach was happy with their work, he said.
“I told people who didn’t go that day they should have come,” Rising said.
“They really missed out. We felt super good about the work we did. I wish I could have stayed longer.”
Libby Storrick, the daughter of Scott and Amy Storrick who is a 2012 CRHS graduate also went on the trip.
A member of the tennis, basketball and lacrosse teams, she said she decided to go because her dad was involved and she thought it would be nice to help out.
Storrick was part of the group that gutted out the locker room in the Moose Lake Arena. She also worked in houses to remove moldy wood and tile.
Storrick said she was surprised how appreciative people were of the students’ help.
“When we were eating lunch, a woman thanked us,” Storrick said. “Another woman said, ‘if there are any problems in Coon Rapids, we’ll come to help you.’”