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Rediscovering home

Displaced Drake students seek out new means of living and deal with the stresses following fire

By Krista Martin
On February 14, 2012

  • Karen Bressi is throwing a vase in her studio store-front. Karen had been working as a nurse in New York for more than 20 years, creating pottery on the side in her basement before she opened Generous Earth Pottery here in La Crosse. She enjoys her studio space by the window so she can feel more apart of the La Crosse downtown community. KaWai Hui

In the initial hours of the morning on Sunday, January 29, when most students were fast asleep in their warm beds contrasting the biting cold air outside, shrill alarms sounded and fire trucks swarmed the front of Drake Hall.  Not quite the peaceful, quiet Sunday morning most were anticipating waking up to.

"I was sleeping when the fire alarms went off. At first, I thought it was just a fire drill, until I saw the smoke on the 1st floor. When I was being evacuated, I was pretty grumpy," Freshman Zach Heinkel said.  

After agonizing hours turned in to days of waiting for the comforting email announcing students could finally return to their home, Chancellor Joe Gow delivered the news that the residence hall would not be in a sufficient state to house anyone for months to come.This means students would have to make other arrangements for the remainder of the 2011-12 year.

This clearly imposed great stress upon those who once lived in Drake, but many efforts were made to aid in bringing these students back to a content state of mind while keeping them safe.  Volunteers were recruited to help individuals move out all belongings, community members and other UW-La Crosse students were contacted in an effort to find people willing to take in the displaced residents, and various faculty members offered to help with anything they could.

"Since the fire, I've been living in Eagle with friends. Everyone has been really helpful and supportive, which has made a really stressful situation bearable. Last week, I was assigned to live in one of the studies in Eagle Hall with my roommate from Drake, so I'm very fortune we didn't get split up like other roommates did," Sophomore Nick Miller said.

Without the kindness and generosity of the professors and other faculty here at UW-L, much of this progress and alleviation of stress would not have kicked in so quickly.

"The professors have also been really supportive, offering whatever help they could. I feel so blessed for being part of this community and for all the help and support I've received," Nick said.  Zach agreed, saying, "The faculty was really helpful with the whole situation.  At first, I fell a little behind on homework, but once I moved into my new housing, I caught up. I'm feeling much better about the situation now."

Yes, this fire has caused great damages to the building, and temporarily to the lives of those who once inhabited the hall.  Even so, this disaster has also been a way for the students, faculty, and La Crosse area community members to become closer and show that there really is hope to be found and fostered in such a horrible situation.  The kindness of people broke through the anguish and made this school an even stronger and closer community, proving that UW-L can never be diminished or weakened as a whole.


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