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The Griffin Editorial 01/27/23: What a College Can Do For a Community

Hall Director Sam Koch was there as the power went out. When the snowstorm came earlier than expected on Friday, Dec. 23, “nobody realized the extent” of the effects. With the power out and heat only at the main campus, the race was on to contact and potentially collect the few dozen students from Delavan and Village Townhouses.

The next morning, Facilities Operation Manager Joe Snodgrass was able to turn the power back on. Over the course of the 24th, perhaps in part due to a Facebook post that erroneously labeled Canisius a “warming shelter,” over 100 community members left their power-less houses to warm up at Canisius.

Directed by Public Safety officers, the community members were put in Regis Room. Noting the many officers —heroes, in Koch’s words — who risked their safety to retrieve students and community members stranded outside, Koch especially commended Officer Spencer Rhyans for leading the efforts to screen people for frostbite and entertain children playing a Disney movie using Regis’s projector. Rhyans, Koch continued, “interacted with the kids so well and made them feel comfortable.”

The community members had a warm place to sleep, and they woke up to a feast. That latter fact was due almost entirely to Chartwells employee Steven. Because of his close proximity to Canisius, Steven was asked on the 24th to come in to cook for the roughly 50 students and employees stranded at the school, and then added the century of community customers for breakfast the next morning.

A recent arrival to the United States from the Republic of San Marino (a small nation surrounded by Italy), Steven braved the historic snow and was guided through the Canisius tunnels by phone. The person on the other end of the line, Director of Dining Services Janet Elis — herself a relative newcomer to Canisius, though not to Buffalo’s treacherous weather — praised Steven’s dedication and selflessness.

The entire dining operation had been shut down for winter break, and Steven started everything back up. The first night, he whipped up pasta, chicken and vegetables. After sleeping in a dorm room, but not before offering to sleep in a dining hall booth, he woke up and made breakfast (waffles, pancakes, eggs, sausage and other brunch delicacies) for the 50 Canisians as well as the 100 members of the community who came to campus.

Director Elis made sure to point out that Steven cooked the 150-person Christmas Day breakfast entirely himself before washing all of the dishes. Steven, a restaurant owner in Italy who came to the United States to be with his soccer maven daughter, sees it as his duty to feed students. Downplaying his contributions, Steven said of his extraordinary efforts: “That’s what I do. I’m used to it.”

If officers including Rhyans forestalled frostbite and Chartwells employee Steven staved off starvation, it was Associated Director of Facilities Joseph Snodgrass who prevented further pain for the Canisius community.

Reflecting on the long-term effects about a month later, Hall Director Koch told The Griffin, “If Joe wasn’t on campus, … it wouldn’t just be Lyons” that was severely damaged. The otherwise eager interviewee was initially speechless when trying to describe Snodgrass’s efforts. Koch said the entire basement of the Palisano Pavilion was underwater, but it would have been much worse if Snodgrass hadn’t shut off the pipes when he did.

For Snodgrass, Friday started off as a normal work day. But when the power went out just before 4 p.m., there was “not a chance” he would leave campus. The associate director of facilities told The Griffin that it would have been “irresponsible to leave campus,” not for his own personal safety but for the good of Canisius. Stuck on the main campus until late on the 24th, once the storm calmed just a bit he “was walking everywhere” to check on buildings and prevent more damage.

After — as Koch had seen live on a security camera — water rushed down the bottom floor of the Koessler Athletic Center, Snodgrass rushed there to shut off the pipes. Even after the initial flooding had stopped, Koch recalled that “Joe was everywhere. He was able to clean so much up before anyone came back to school.”

While surely others were involved who have not received praise here or elsewhere, we conclude by duly crediting Koch. Of the hall director, Steven said, “Sam was wonderful, really kind and helped me” in his efforts to feed people. Snodgrass agreed: “Sam was fantastic; Sam was really great.” Koch more stoically called her own experience a module in “crisis management mode.” Maybe it wasn’t the education she expected to receive during her time at Canisius, but it’s one, we think, will serve her well.

Perhaps influenced by the propaganda from Canisius’s recent sesquicentennial anniversary, we conclude by comparing the one fact mentioned by all those we interviewed: the total number of people sheltering at Canisius was about 150. We consider this coincidence an apt way to echo Koch’s belief that the heroics described above are truly “what a college can do for a community.” —PH

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