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Campus reaches out after sister school loses 'heart' in fire

Friday, February 29, 2008  
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By Alison Roberts

Students, faculty and staff donated over $1100 after chapel on Monday and Tuesday to support Oklahoma Christian University's sister school.

The fire hit the Terrell, Texas school in the early morning hours of Jan. 27, according to a letter released by college president, Jack Evans. One of the buildings lost contained a large part of the college administration offices.

"There were three floors of the building. The first housed the offices of the dean of students, admissions, the business office, financial aid and the academic dean. The second floor housed the chapel auditorium which was just refurbished two years ago and classrooms. The third floor was also used for classrooms and storage." Southwest Christian College graduate and admissions counselor Mark Vaughn said.

Vaughn said the building played an important role in the day-to-day function of the campus.

"That building was the heart of the school," Vaughn said. "When I was there, I would sit on the steps on one side and sing. The steps on the other side were where we would sit, talk and laugh."

Junior Jennifer Hoodridge came to Oklahoma Christian following the completion of her Associate's Degree at Southwestern Christian College. She also remembered the integral role of the building that was lost.

"I remember the students coming together to sing on the steps. Sometimes they would sing until curfew," Hoodridge said. "The chapel room is where we held movie nights for the students, fashion and talent shows and college fairs."

The total damage amounted to $1.8 million, which will be covered by the insurance. An article printed by "The Christian Chronicle" revealed that rebuilding costs will total more than $5.8 million for both construction and furnishings.

In an effort to help the college return to normal, Oklahoma Christian loaned Southwestern Christian College 15 laptops until the school can afford to replace the computer systems lost in the fire. Vaughn delivered the computers to the college on Feb. 4.

The drive following chapel on Monday came from a meeting between Vaughn, President Mike O'Neal, Dean of Students Neil Arter, Executive Vice President, Alfred Branch and Assistant Professor of Psychology Lawrence Murray. According to Vaughn the assembly wanted everyone at Oklahoma Christian to have the opportunity to give whatever they could.

In an e-mail sent out to the student body prior to the donation drive, O'Neal indicated that a team from IT and Network Services will also be sent to Southwestern Christian in the future to help re-establish the computer systems.

Despite the fires, many associated with Southwestern Christian said they believe the fire has resulted in a positive outlook among the campus community.

"This has brought the administration closer together," Vaughn said. "Now they'll be able to build something that is more modern and eye catching."

Hoodridge said though the fires destroyed the buildings, memories will last.

"Although the fire has made a great impact, we as the students will always carry on the memories," Hoodridge said. "God puts hardships in our way, and I believe this one will only make the school stronger."

The president of the college looks to scripture for inspiration to help his wounded family.

"The God we serve turns tragedy into triumph; burdens into blessings; and ashes into beauty," Evans said.  "Thus, like the proverbial phoenix, Southwestern Christian College will rise from the ashes of this disaster and will be a bigger and better institution of Christian higher education."

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