On February 5, 2008, a tornado came through Jackson, Tennessee and demolished Union University and everything in its path. Though most buildings were gone and the dorms were cleared to the ground, through God’s prevailing mercy and protection, no one died.
During the confusion, the destruction and the overwhelming feeling of loss, the Jackson community engulfed Union University in love and took care of the campus, staff and students. Churches, faculty and families in the community housed students whose home away from home got destroyed in the tornado. Neighbors of the university helped to pick up rubble and gathered student’s belongings to return to them for some type of normalcy. Because of all the hard work and generous donations of money and time, within two weeks of the tornado’s destruction, classes resumed.
Three months after the tornado, Union’s former president, David Dockery, began the 2008 graduation by saying, “It appeared highly unlikely that we would be here tonight, or that we would find a way to finish the spring semester. But by God’s grace, here we are.”
On November 1, 2016, Union University had its 14th annual Day of Remembrance. On this day, faculty, staff and students join together in a campus wide service day to once again remember what the Lord has brought Union through and to give thanks to the community for their support through the rebuilding of lives and buildings.
Many student organizations set out at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday on various projects. Among those organizations, a majority of Union’s sports teams spread throughout the community to do their part.
Union softball was found in a big blue building off of Highway 70, the residence of the Boys and Girls Club of Jackson.
Scattered throughout the blue building, girls were organizing books that reminded each of them of their childhood, putting arts and crafts back in their original spaces (after being misplaced by gleeful children), cleaning lockers and sweeping floors.
“Some of the girls made posters and a bulletin board with scriptures and signs saying how much we loved the Boys and Girls Club,” Hailey Cummings, senior exercise science major, said. “It was an awesome day of serving and reflecting.”
Along with the joy of giving back to the community, Cummings and her team realized the importance of having a shared goal among each other and the time of reflection.
“Having a common goal outside of softball definitely made us work together as a team,” Cummings said. “We had a lot of fun serving the Boys and Girls Club and then going to lunch afterward to reflect on the community service and how wonderful it was.”
A few miles down the street, Union’s men’s basketball was found with weed eaters, hedge trimmers and riding lawn mowers.
“It was great for our team to bond and work together outside of practices and workouts to help serve the community,” Bennett Fuzak, freshman accounting major, said.
The men worked at two separate houses on Tuesday, both owned by widows. They took their time making the women’s yards look clean and trimmed all the while sharing in their usual friendly banter.
“We talk all year about serving others and how Jesus commanded us to take care of the widows and the orphans,” Trevor Lydic, men’s basketball assistant coach said. “Tuesday, we actually got to live those words out and the guys really benefit from seeing each other selflessly serve those in the community.”
The Union men’s soccer spread across Union’s campus cleaning the grounds and planting trees. As some teammates began to dig holes into the ground behind the soccer field, others dug up dead rose bushes.
“I really like serving others,” Lucas Lopes, junior business management major, said. “Its this feeling of giving back to the community and doing that with my teammates makes it even better.”
The baseball team was found a few miles from campus packed into two rooms and a hall lining windows and doors with tape and laying down protective paper over the hardwood, all precautions to keep paint from splattering on the floors.
“It’s awesome to be a part of a school and baseball program where service is a priority,” Marty Coursey, junior business administration, said. “The community has given Union so much support over the years and this was just a small way for us to repay them for all they have done.”
The men crowded into the house to paint, and a few rake leaves and stacked firewood. Inside the house, joking and conversation never stopped as the men decided painting in a “V” formation was the proper way to paint a wall.
“Serving as a team definitely made us closer,” Coursey said. “Anytime our team can get away from baseball for a little bit and sacrifice our time for the good of someone else it always brings us closer. Our team has a lot of selfless guys who put others before themselves, this makes for not only a good baseball team but also a great group of men.”
Along with service projects, the volleyball team spent their day building relationships within the Jackson community by spending a couple hours at a retirement village.
“One lady was from Germany,” Hannah Huguley, senior family studies major, said. “She and her husband came to the states for their honeymoon and eventually made it their home.”
The Lady Bulldogs enjoyed their time making new friends and playing bingo. The first seven games, a volleyball player won, so the players swapped winning cards with their elderly neighbors so their new friends won BINGO too.
“It’s always amazing to get the chance to sit down and talk to the elderly and hear their stories,” McKenna Carter, senior public relations major, said. “Moments like today are really eye opening. It shows you how much of an impact you can make with such a small gesture.”