First-day adventures

Rain, opossums and first-day jitters. From kindergarteners to grad students, the start of classes is never dull.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:36 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

When MU junior Dave Gasparovic showed up at the Student Recreation Center for his shift at 10 a.m. Monday, the power was down. Employees abandoned their jobs answering phones or monitoring weight room activity to stand at the door and turn away students.

“We’ve been relegated to bouncers,” Gasparovic said, “although most people have been pretty understanding.”

At the Rec Center, curiosity killed the opossum — knocking out power for about 30 minutes, said MU spokesman Christian Basi.

As the fall semester began Monday, the thousands of people who keep MU up and running rode the groundswell of new students and first-day incidents the same way they do every year.

“Just the fact that you have 4,000-plus new people here for the first time — everything here is new for them,” said David Rielley, coordinator of New Student Programs. “It’s hectic, but it’s a special occasion.”

Other MU staff members echoed Rielley.

“In an average day, I’ll see six to eight students, and today I’ll see that many in one hour,” said Jeff Turnbull, a financial aid adviser.

Paula Thies, administrative assistant to the university registrar, planned to work on updates to MU’s course catalog on Monday, but a barrage of questions and phone calls kept her busy all day.

“It’s like we can solve all problems, and we can’t. We try, but we can’t,” Thies said, shrugging but smiling as another staff member approached her desk with more questions.

Jim Cogswell, director of MU Libraries, was having a busy morning at his desk as well, but he was enthusiastic about the start of a new school year.

“I feed off of the students. I’m always struck by their energy at the start of a term. We, the staff, get new chances and new possibilities just as the students do,” Cogswell said.

He was concentrating on the formal opening of the new Information Commons section of Ellis Library.

“It’s already pretty crowded, but that’s a happy problem to have,” Cogswell said.

At University Bookstore, Michelle Froese, the public relations manager for Student Auxiliary Services, sat in her second-floor office calm but well aware of the buying frenzy beneath her.

“The first three days of school are the busiest,” said Froese, who has been the public relations manager since 1997. “We hire 100 temps to accommodate for the back-to-school rush. Some of them start as early as July.”

At the Subway sandwich shop in Hitt Street Market, shift manager Jerry Shelton braved a rush of hungry students.

“We sold between 90 and 100 sandwiches from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and we’ve had to train four or five new people,” Shelton said as he ducked under the counter to look for a new batch of condiments.

Just outside Brady Commons, John Scheer, an MU campus bus driver, shuttled students back to the Trowbridge and Hearnes Center commuter parking lots all day.

“A lot of students are confused the first week — they don’t know what shuttle or parking lot they want,” Scheer said. “A few students thought the shuttle was a city bus, but we are strictly campus only.”

“I haven’t had a full load yet,” he said. “They might have increased the number of shuttles, but parking has still been a huge problem. Both Hearnes and Trowbridge have been full all morning.”

Scheer isn’t the only staff member who sees the students before and after class.

“It tickles me to watch the kids preparing for that first day,” said custodian Rick Gunier, “and then they’re not prepared for it — you see them forgetting stuff.”

Dressed in his blue custodial vest, the pony-tailed Gunier said he enjoys watching the students prepare for their foray into campus life.

“Everybody seems to be happy and jolly,” he continued, a smile creeping onto his face.

Beginning his fourth year as custodian and almost his 10th at MU, Gunier said he is always glad to see the students return.

“These old buildings get lonely when nobody’s here,” he said.

— Missourian reporters Paul Dziuba, Ezekiel Guza, Lene Johansen, Jill McDonnell, Daniel Mullen and Dan Nejfelt contributed to this report.

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