PSU commemorates 100 years since Russ Hall fire

Michael Bauer, editor-in-chief

In the early morning hours of June 30, 1914, the Pittsburg community gathered and saw in horror what remained of Russ Hall.
The Main, as the building was known then, had been struck by lightning in the middle of the night and it wasn’t long before the rest of the building went up in flames.
But through perseverance and rebuilding, Russ Hall still stands and 100 years later, the community and the university gathered to honor those who helped restore PSU’s iconic complex.
On Monday, June 30, the Russ Hall Fire Centennial Commemoration was held outside the front doors.
“Our university has experienced many dramatic moments in the last century,” said Lynette Olson, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “But nothing has been as big as the Russ Hall fire.”
Not only was The Main uninsured at the time, but the thought of having classes for the upcoming fall semester was in serious doubt.
It became a challenge for the school’s new president, William Brandenburg, who on the morning after the fire, proclaimed that the school would carry on.
“Brandenburg said to the crowd, ‘We will not miss a single day of classes’ on the morning after the fire,” said Randy Roberts, dean of library services and special collections.
Indeed, classes did continue and Roberts said that “not a single student withdrew from that fall semester.”
The university and the community rallied to raise close to $126,000 – around $3 million today.
“Russ Hall is a reminder of cooperation between the city and the school,” Olson said.
Roberts spoke about some of the details of what happened during the fire and how some artifacts were saved that night.
“It didn’t take long for the windows to break, which allowed the fire to spread faster,” Roberts said. “Hundreds of books and materials were saved from the building by volunteers,” Roberts said.
One of those volunteers was a student named Rex Tanner, who lost his life that day.
Tanner was struck by an electrical wire as he was helping fire fighters fight the blaze.
“Rex Tanner was very much like our students today,” Olson said. “He was just a few credit hours short of his bachelor’s degree.”
A moment of silence was held for Tanner during the commemoration.
The city fire department may have consisted of wagons and horses a century ago, but Pittsburg Fire Chief Mike Simons said the mindset for those who fought to extinguish the flames at Russ Hall was the same for every firefighter today.
“When a firefighter is arriving to a fire, they are clam and focused on the job. The same went for those that night,” Simons said. “They asked themselves the same questions then as we do today.”
Before the end of the ceremony, the fire department and the city were presented with a plaque that reads: “Grateful appreciation of over a hundred years of service to PSU and the community.”
A reception was held at the conclusion inside Russ Hall on the second floor where many of the artifacts that were saved from the fire were put back on display.

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