More than 100 volunteers were on campus at Maryville College this past week doing landscaping and minor carpentry and masonry work. It was all part of the 14th annual Kin Takahashi Week.
More than 450 projects have been completed since 1997 when Dan Greaser, class of 1960, organized the first such week for alumni and friends of the college. Volunteers spend the week “upgrading the curb appeal” of the campus.
“They use about $20,000 in materials, it costs about $6,000 to feed and room the volunteers,” said Greaser. “In return, they do about $60,000 to $80,000 in labor. The added-value to Maryville College for that week is plus-or-minus about $100,000 because they would have to hire people out to do all of this.”
Diana Canacaris, class of 2002 and director of Stewardship and Alumni Board Relations, coordinates volunteers for the week. “We normally have about 100 and this year we had 117,” she said. “We actually had more people participate, and we also saw an increase in young alumni and people not even college age. We’ve probably got 10 who are either in high school or middle school.”
Canacaris said the college provides room and board and all their meals as well as Steve Kaufman concert tickets for Wednesday night. Kaufman’s acoustic camp at the college falls during Kin Takahashi Week.
“This is what always amaze me,” said Canacaris, “so many of these folks who come back and work all week are in their 60s and 70s. They work tireless outside for eight and nine hours a day. They are so faithful and never complain. They know what they are doing is for the betterment of the college, and they’re doing it for this generation.”
Greaser said the idea for Kin Takahashi Week began back in 1995 when he had a conversation with a classmate who told him he didn’t have a lot of “treasure,” but he had a lot of time and would be willing to come once a year to help on campus.
Greaser, a board member for the college, said he approached the administration about creating a work week program for volunteers and friends of the college. “At that time, the campus was not as “bright” as it is now. We wanted to upgrade essentially the curb appeal of the college. We knew we could do a lot of landscaping, small carpentry and some masonry projects, clean up and pressure-washing,” he said. “The administration supported it, and we started Kin Takahashi Week. We named it after Kin Takahashi because he built Bartlett Hall and led the students in making the 300,000 bricks that went into Bartlett Hall.”
Greaser said something he and other volunteers have noticed throughout the years is that regardless of what era the alumnus is from, they always have something in common with those other alumni volunteering during “K.T.” week.
“When you come back, you have something in common,” he said. “Essentially it’s your love for Maryville College, and you discover the same camaraderie you had with your fellow students.”
Greaser said when picking projects, they try to get projects that can show immediate results. Often the volunteers will take “before and after” pictures to show the improvements. When the volunteers are back on campus for other events, “they often point out, ‘I did this,’ or ‘we did that,’ or ‘that over there was a K.T. project,’” said Greaser.
The Kin Takahashi Week founder and coordinator said the program has been written about in magazines as an initiative other colleges should emulate. “It’s been a labor of love for a lot of people. They work hard and discover muscles they didn’t know they had,” he said with a laugh.
Dan Rineer, Signal Mountain, class of 1965, worked through some pain after he got bleach splashed on his arms while cleaning mold off columns at the House in the Woods.
Undeterred, he spent the last day of what the alumni call “K.T. Week” finishing up his projects. “I don’t know if I’ll get everything done, but I do what I can to help,” he said. “I always found my niche painting.”
Rob Kennedy, class of 1971, said he helped others working in the Archives and that this is a job he actually does throughout the year and not just during “K.T. Week.” He led a group of volunteers as they went through 70- and 80-year-old files. “Each day during lunch we do a display on two of the presidents. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Kennedy said one way he keeps up with what is going on around campus is by staying involved. “After my son graduated, there wasn’t any more money,” he said as he laughed. “All I had left was time.”
Don Weisbaker, Signal Mountain, said he helped last year and again this year. “We had a marvelous time, and I came again this year,” he said. “All of us are ‘gray hairs,’ and we move slower, but we’ve gotten an awful lot done.”
Robert Cooper, class of 1971, retired as a teacher in Oak Ridge last week and spent this week volunteering at his alma mater. “This is the first time I’ve been (to KT week). I’ve always been intending to do this,” he said. “We dug post holes, painted and dug more post holes. Mostly, I did fencing and landscaping.”
Kimberly Deighton, class of 1984, of Sarasota, Fla., drove up for a high school reunion the weekend before KT week started. Her sons Rob, 18, and Clay, 16, drove up and joined her for the work week. Rob is going to be a freshman this year and was to do orientation the weekend after KT week wrapped on June 18.
Rob Deighton, 18, incoming class of 2014, said he has enjoyed helping out at the school where he will attend in the fall. “I liked it. It was hard work but it was good. I’ve done landscaping and helped build fences. I learned that so many people are dedicated to the college and come back to help,” he said.
Several student physical plant employees also helped. Justin Siler, a rising junior from Anderson County, said he had fun helping out. “Basically, I’m just trying to make the campus look better and do the projects that need to be done,” he said.
Nick Winston, a rising junior from Atlanta, said, “people needed help so we pitched in, and it ended up being a lot of fun.”
Kyle Finnell, a rising senior from Kingston, said he saw the alumni give of their time. “This was the least I could do, and it creates a lasting impact,” he said. “I’ll definitely do this for the rest of my life.
Kin Takahashi came to the school in 1888 after having spent two years in a Hopkins Academy in Massachusetts. At the end of his second year in the States, Kin, whose parents were Shintoist and Buddhist, converted to Christianity. At hearing of his conversion, Kin’s parents cut off all financial support. Through another Hopkins student, Kin learned of Maryville College and the College’s commitment to aid financially-strapped young students who wanted a college education. In Kin Takahashi’s short time as an undergraduate, he started the first football team, organized self-help projects for financially strapped students and, most notably, spearheaded the building of Bartlett Hall.
Canacaris said Kin Takahashi Week 2011 is set for June 13 - 17. For more information or to participate, call Canacaris, at 865-981-8198.