Katrina hits home at Kettering

Sep 12, 2005

Kettering students and alumni have been directly and indirectly impacted by the hurricane more than 1,100 miles away. Here are some of their stories.

Glen Rabito and Jeffrey Gblende's families have lost everything from family photos to the family business while Phillip Baldwin '70 and his wife are virtually camped out in their home with no electricity or hot water. And Justin Junell is just waiting to be called back to work so he can start rebuilding his life. But their love for their native and adopted homes is unabated.

Rabito and Gblende are from New Orleans. Baldwin moved to Mobile, Ala., to be closer to the deep sea fishing he loves, and Junell is a co-op at Stennie Space Center in Slidell, La. All have experienced Hurricane Katrina in varying degrees. Gblende got out of the "Big Easy" with the clothes on his back. Rabito has had to watch from afar as family and friends struggle to survive, Baldwin helped keep medical services going in the Gulf Coast area while his wife evacuated and Junell managed to evacuate with a few possessions but cannot return to work yet. The following are their stories:

Glen Rabito, a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering, grew up in the "Big Easy," as did his father, and his parents based their convention photography business Lagniappe Studio, Inc. there. Rabito said watching the aftermath of hurricane Katrina from his co-op job at EST Testing Solutions in Holland, Mich., is "one of the worst feelings I have had to endure, having to watch the city that I know and love sink into death and disease."

His parents evacuated a day and half ahead of the hurricane to Pensacola, Fla. "I actually went to visit my parents after the hurricane hit. A couple of friends and I were planning on taking a vacation to New Orleans, but once this thing hit there were obviously no flights, so we drove to Pensacola instead to see if we could help out and hit the beach a little," he said. Knowing his parents are safe is reassuring, but he has only heard from a couple of friends so far, "the others...still no luck."

Rabito feels a biggest sense of loss on behalf of his parents. "Right now they are struggling to keep Lagniappe Studio Inc., their self-made business of more than 15years, alive. In the long run, we can only hope that New Orleans will be safe enough to return," he said. (Lagniappe is a word meaning a little something extra, like a bakers dozen.)

About the hurricane in general, Rabito said "I know there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent what was coming. However, I always grew up knowing that if a hurricane were to hit New Orleans the city would be underwater, and here is the proof. So, what I do not understand is, if it has been known for generations upon generations that this was going to happen, why was the city or the nation unprepared for it?"

He said he felt it was a mistake for local government to cut the budget to improve the levee system, but yet a bigger mistake to have a scattered contingency plan. Rabito finds it unbelievable that what he terms unnecessary deaths occurred after the hurricane in a nation like the United States.

"So what that our homes are gone, they can be rebuilt, but there is no replacing the life and the culture that once filled the streets of New Orleans. In my eyes, New Orleans will never be the same," he said.

His younger sister, Gia Rabito, is a student at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) near the end of her externship at Sea Island Resort in St. Simmons Island, Ga. "She is also very shocked with the outcome of Katrina. It is still up in the air whether or not she will take a term off at the end of her externship to help my parents out with the business," said Rabito, "I wish I had the option to take off my last work term to help them out, but I already have the co-op commitment to my company," he said.

Preparing to graduate in September, Rabito has been active in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers student chapter, as a member and past president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Gamma Sigma Alpha as well as a past member of the Campus Activities Council at Kettering.

Phillip Baldwin '70, spent the aftermath of hurricane Katrina holding down the fort at the University of South Alabama Health Systems hospital in Mobile where he is director of Facilities. "The hospital took extensive damage to the roof and curtain wall and we lost power for about 14 hours," said Baldwin, "but we were able to remain open, and for a while we were the only trauma center open between here (Mobile) and Houston." The hospital had helicopters coming and going for a few days loaded with patients, but, Baldwin said, that has subsided now that some services have been re-established in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Baldwin and his wife Regina live on Dauphin Island, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico south of Mobile. Mobile and Dauphin Island were on the east edge of the hurricane experiencing winds of around 100 miles per hour. "It's not a real good place to ride out a storm," he said, "so we evacuated Sunday morning." Baldwin's wife went to her mother's home in Mobile but couldn't stay long because the roof was blown off. "This is about the fourth hurricane we've experienced in two years," he said.

As of last Friday, Baldwin said that the Mobile area was recovering well, "and even the gas prices are declining a bit." They returned to their home on the island the day after the storm and found about three inches of water in the house. "We cleaned up the mess and have stayed there since, although we still don't have power," said Baldwin. "We can't seem to get used to taking a cold shower in the dark, but we are very blessed compared to our neighbors to the west. Many, many folks literally lost everything and the overwhelming nationwide response is a wonderful thing to see." (The power came back on Saturday in their area and Baldwin emailed an update saying it was great to have a hot shower again.)

When asked what he felt his community needed most Baldwin said "this community is doing well and any outside aid should be directed west of us. Many small towns on the coast have literally disappeared south of I-10 so the rebuilding will be a massive effort."

A native of Xenia, Ohio, Baldwin was a co-op student at Inland Division in Dayton. He and his wife moved to Gulf Coast because they enjoy offshore fishing. At Kettering/GMI Baldwin majored in Mechanical Engineering and was a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity. Prior to the University of South Alabama Health Systems he worked primarily in the paper industry and healthcare.

Jeffrey Gblende, a junior majoring in Mechanical Engineering, and his parents and sister are currently living with his father's cousin in Spring, Texas outside of Houston. The family originally evacuated to Vicksburg, Miss., but had to leave when the shelter they were staying in became overcrowded and they were asked to leave.

Jeffrey's mother, Veronica, contacted Dwight Tavada, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Initiatives (formerly the Office of Minority Student Affairs) to inform him that her son would not be able to return to Kettering for his junior year because the family had lost everything due to the hurricane, according to Tavada.

Tavada worked with administrators at Kettering to help Gblende through the upcoming year and found resources to pay for plane ticket to enable the Kettering junior to return to Michigan. In addition to losing his home Gblende also lost his co-op job to Hurricane Katrina. His co-op employer was Cox Communications in New Orleans. Tavada's office is also working on finding clothing and school supplies for Gblende.

Right now Gblende has the security of knowing there is a plane ticket that will bring him back to campus Sept. 30, a room in Thompson Hall reserved for him and the normalcy of classes beginning Oct. 3. The long term future, for him and his family, is a work in progress.

Justin Junell, of Fredricksburg, Texas, lived in an apartment in Slidell, La., overlooking the marsh surrounding Lake Pontchatrain. He was able to evacuate before the hurricane hit. "I packed a plastic bin with a few personal belongings and rode the storm out at a friends house in Pearl River, La., about 10 miles north of Slidell," said Junell. "The storm surge ate my apartment," he added.

In addition to losing his apartment and it contents, Junell temporarily lost his job. He works in the Analysis and Modeling division of Stennis Space Center (SSC), NASA's Propulsion Test Directorate in Slidell, predicting and analyzing facility and test article performance for rocket engine tests. He also performs data reconstruction to determine causes of any anomalies.

"Our site is closed except to essential personnel. It is currently serving as a staging area for FEMA, MEMA and the national guard," said Junell. According to Junell some of the civil servants employed at the site have returned to work, but that "work is still optional. Most people are taking this time to repair their homes."

He said estimates project 25 percent of SSC's workforce is homeless, representing about 1,000 people with no home, or a home damaged enough to be unlivable. He said he was told SSC is constructing a tent city to house its homeless workforce and others in the community.

"While we are trying to return to business as usual, it will take some time," said Junell. "Many of the employees in the Propulsion Test Directorate have been loaned to disaster relief and recovery efforts. It will probably be at least several weeks before we return to propulsion testing."

While displaced, Junell has visited his parents and made a Labor Day weekend trip to campus to visit friends. He continues to stay with friends waiting to return to work. "We still don't have power at the house where I'm staying. The electric company says it will be at least another week."

Despite material losses, Junell feels lucky to have employment. "One of the more important things I have is a job. That is not mentioned nearly enough in the news. A job allows you the means to earn back what was lost," he said. The hurricane also delayed him finishing his thesis, "but I'm hoping for some understanding. I will be submitting the final copy this week," he said.

Kettering University joins its many higher education colleagues in supporting relief efforts for those impacted by Hurricane Katrina. To help the American Red Cross, call 1-800-HELP NOW.

Written by Dawn Hibbard