Hurricane Puts Hero Back in Touch
Troy Farris, left, visits with Alden Hostetter ’79 at a Gulf coast reconstruction site.
When Hurricane Katrina wiped out his means of earning a living, Troy Farris learned that his professors and classmates at EMU had not forgotten him, despite being out of touch for 3 years.
Farris was living 900 road miles – and even more mental miles – away from EMU, when the hurricane hit in August 2005. Farris had attended no homecomings since graduating in 993.
He felt too many at his alma mater had disagreed with his "traditional conservative" views. Too few understood what it felt like to be an older undergraduate – one who married while at college, one who was the first from Louisiana, one who had no family funds to ease the college experience.
Then the hurricane crashed through his life in Gulfport, Mississippi. Suddenly the EMU calls came…one, two, three, four, more….from as far away as the Middle East.
The first on the line was the father of an EMU classmate from Ohio, Chris Taylor '9 . Chris, now a neurosurgeon, had last visited Farris in 989 when he came to see Farris marry JoAnna. "Are you okay?" asked the elder Taylor, Don Taylor '59, followed quickly by, "What do you need?"
Another classmate, Pete Dula '92, phoned from Amman, Jordan, where he was working for Mennonite Central Committee.
Three of his former professors, Spencer Cowles, Rick Yoder and Ron Stoltzfus, phoned, as did Phil Helmuth, executive director of development at EMU.
Refuge with Jazz Director
Carolyn and Stephen Sachs—he had directed the jazz band in which Farris played baritone sax while at EMU – offered their home in Jackson, Miss., as a refuge for Troy, JoAnna, and their four sons aged to 2. The six Farrises spent a week in the threebedroom Sachs home, with four in the host family, plus an elderly woman brought by the Farrises ( total in the house).
"The outpouring of concern from EMU-related friends and the broader Mennonite community has been utterly astounding," says Farris. "I had pretty much lost contact with EMU, but this experience has pulled me back in a powerful way."
A couple of EMU friends insisted on sending funds to help the Farris family survive their first days post-Katrina and then start rebuilding their lives.
"Spencer (Cowles) left a message on my answering machine just saying he called to check in on me," recalls Farris. "I kept it on there and replayed it every now and then during the months of rebuilding."
Farris also connected with EMU grads who did service-work trips to the region, such as physician Alden Hostetter '79 in February, 2006.
In the early 990s, Farris was known for hotly arguing for conservative positions in his college classes. "Rick Yoder (business and economics professor) and I agreed on nothing," says Farris. "But he was a great friend and teacher."
"I think about those who came through Katrina without those kinds of connections or faith, and I really wonder how they go on," says Farris.
"I am grateful for people who remembered and found me. I am grateful for the larger community of faith.'
Farris returned for his first EMU visit since 993 in the summer of 2006.
Hero to Elderly
Farris became a hero to 55 confused and scared nursing home residents when he loaded them into a motor coach bus and drove them away from the hurricane's destruction, delivering them to Red Cross officials at a Jackson, Miss., church.
Farris grew up attending Lighthouse Fellowship, an outgrowth of a Sunday school program run by Mennonites George and Ruby '40 Reno. They were Louisiana shrimpers who became surrogate parents to Farris when he was a young adult.
In mid-October of this year, Farris told Crossroads that he juggles several jobs while trying to piece back his life in Gulfport: he still has a boating and boat motor business, and he still teaches scuba diving to a handful of clients who use it as a break from the stresses of rebuilding in the area. And he still drives a motor coach.