My personal exercise habits often include a morning run along a route that takes me down the Avenue of the Elms.
At the end of that glorious arcade, when I turn around to look back upon the campus, there stands against the western sky a view that is incomparable to any other American campus. It is Gunnison Memorial Chapel, alone, at the vanishing point of a long row of hardwoods in fall splendor.
And it stood there vividly this morning, as it has for about 85 years. Even with the spire fallen, it stood like a north country boulder.
Before dawn on Sunday, from our bedroom window, Lynn and I saw the smoke and flames of a fire that could easily have taken all of the chapel, as other fires, at other times in our campus history, had once done. We heard cracking timbers as we raced out the back door and headed for the Quad, already sensing how much was at stake in those early moments.
To our great relief, the Canton Fire Department, which had sounded the alarm only 20 minutes before we arrived, was already fully staged to fight the fire. The men and women of the volunteer fire department were completely absorbed and focused on a job that they had each trained hundreds of hours to do.
Firefighters from Potsdam, Gouverneur, Rensselaer Falls and Morley had joined the ranks in a totally integrated crisis operation. Among this corps, there were St. Lawrence students and the parents of current students engaged in this intense effort to win the day. Their total success speaks for itself, but we must all, nevertheless, speak our own deeply felt gratitude.
Fire Chief Bob Crowe and the company of men and women in the Canton Fire Department and the cooperating departments of neighboring communities deserve our high admiration and heartfelt appreciation. The response time from notification to staging the battle was four minutes.
This is a critical fact in the outcome of the day. For now, the summary of all that I wish to say is in these words: Im so very thankful that St. Lawrence University lives in a town called Canton.
Moreover, let me also thank our campus Safety and Security office led by Pat Gagnon. Our 24-hour patrols give us all peace of mind, never better demonstrated than the alert response of four staff members: Jason Coleman, Tom Stafford, Sean LaSala and Bryan Zimmer. Our emergency response and communication protocols all were in place working like a finely crafted timepiece.
The campus facilities staff members were all on hand, even the Dana kitchen gave extra effort to support all the crisis responders. On Sunday morning, there were more than 50 members of the St. Lawrence staff on hand to deal with many of the unplanned and very necessary details of the moment.
St. Lawrence is lucky to have such competency and loyalty. Our students and their families have added reason to feel they are in good hands when they join this campus.
Laurentians far and near have expressed their love and support, for which we feel abiding gratitude. We will, of course, rebuild and repair.
We will be considering the best way for our beloved community to be joined in that effort. The chapel spire, the tallest object on the landscape of the St. Lawrence Valley, will again stand over all the hopes and memories that develop each year on our campus. The resounding chapel bells will play again before long.
Today and in the days to come, however, the tradition of chapel bells at five oclock will continue, owing to staff creativity and a digital recording of our best-loved songs heard from the tower. The familiar change ringing and school songs will sound from the chapel area for all to hear at the calm end of the day.
William L. Fox is president of St. Lawrence University in Canton.