With light snow falling and Santa’s elves hard at work, it seemed a little like Christmas Saturday morning in Fort Hays State University’s Davis Hall.
FHSU’s Department of Applied Technology assisted the Teaming Up For Tots program on Saturday for the 27th annual Fred P. Ruda TUFT Day. About 50 community volunteers joined FHSU students, staff and faculty members in building toys in Davis Hall’s wood shop. This year’s toy was an excavator, which featured a boom and a bucket attached to a cab that swivels on a six-wheel chassis. About 150 toys will be delivered to young children, and others will be given to sponsors.
Dr. Duane Renfrow, associate professor of applied technology, and Kim Stewart, chair of that department, each teach a section of the materials, process and production class. Their students came up with 34 designs from which to choose. They were whittled down to the final three, with Stewart and Renfrow making the final choice. Renfrow then designed the toy. One of Renfrow’s students, Smith Center sophomore Nicholas Lehmkuhl, cut and pre-assembled the pieces of the toys for Saturday’s assembly line production.
Matt Brown of Hays made it a family affair assembling toys. He used to build the toys with his father, Dave, who accompanied his son again Saturday. This year, Matt also brought his wife, Natalie, and their three children, A.J., 11, Avery, 6, and Nicholas, 3. It was the first time they were all together building toys.
“It gives us a chance to teach our kids to give back, to give to those who don’t have as much as we do,” said Matt, a high school technology instructor in Russell. “We had the option this morning of going to Home Depot to build toys for ourselves or a chance to come here and build toys for other people. They wanted to come here and be part of this rather than build something for themselves.”
Larry Jantz, Hays, is an old hand at this. He reckons he has participated in 25 of the toy-building weekends at the university through the years.
“It’s just a good project,” Jantz said. “Every year, it’s kind of unique. It’s fun.
“It’s nice to help some of these kids who don’t have anything,” he added. “That makes you feel good.”
People don’t have to be handy with their hands to participate. Dr. Gene Rice, chair of the Department of Philosophy at FHSU, said he was proof of that. He was there Saturday with his two high school children, Peter, a junior, and Eliza, a sophomore.
“We need lots of instruction,” Rice said with a laugh. “But they make it very simple -- even a philosopher can do it.”
Next year, the elves will be across the street, building toys in the new 58,000-square-foot Center for Applied Technology and Sculpture, which is set to be completed in fall 2017.
“It didn’t really dawn on me until last week,” Renfrow said of next year’s location.
But that’s next year. On Saturday, volunteers both young and young at heart were assembling the toy excavators to make this Christmas a little brighter.
“This is our third time doing this,” Rice said. “This is by far the most complicated product. It’s a really neat design.”
Every station does its part.
“Most of our little kids, we call them parts runners,” Renfrow said. “They go to different stations and pick up parts. A lot of our older kids -- that we don’t feel comfortable running machines -- they’re sanding. They can also switch over to assembly.”
Students used to do the design work, but when that class combined with another, Renfrow took over designing the toy once it was selected. “I do admit I enjoy the design work,” Renfrow said. “It’s a very worthy cause, too, and carries on tradition.”
With the falling snow, with all the hammering and sanding away, with doing something for someone else, the volunteers give -- and receive.
“Nothing puts you in the holiday spirit like being one of Santa’s elves,” Rice said, “especially when it’s snowing outside.”