Alumni eNewsletter: "Ole Jim" survives earthquake (Archives)

After the earthquake occurred, many alumni contacted us here at the home office asking if "Ole Jim" was ok. It was inspiring to us to see how concerned alumni were about "Ole Jim", so we thought since the alumni community is our family, we would share our stories of what we were doing at that exact moment the earthquake happened, along with an article on how Gallaudet is doing-and how the University responded to the earthquake. To see the article, please go to

Sam Sonnenstrahl, ’79 & G-’84, Executive Director, Alumni Relations/GUAA

I was working on a script at my desk when the building shook. After the first rumble, I thought it was trucks moving things from the construction site for the new dormitory to Faculty Row. When it got worse, I thought the drivers were crazy … perhaps jumping on curbs or even closer to 'Ole Jim. The word "earthquake" simply did not register in my mind–who would have thought it’d happen here? When I got out of the building, I was ready to give those drivers a piece of my mind. The roads were empty, and I saw people outside of other buildings. I was puzzled. I got a page from my wife in Frederick, Md. that an earthquake had struck. Ohhhhhhh … that was an earthquake. After making sure that the Alumni Relations staff was okay, I walked around the campus and came back to the building. I noticed that the shingles near the chimney were warped. I reported this to the Facilities Department, as they’d need to make sure that the chimney is okay. Facilities found and fixed a small crack. No leaks have been found after couple rain storms.

I am convinced that if it were not for the renovation four years ago where steel beams were added to stabilize walls and roof, there’d be serious damage to the building. (Note: "Ole Jim" is the only wooden building remaining on campus.)

Abby Drake, ’97 & G-’99, Assistant Director

I was standing by the copy machine in the meeting room, watching it churn out paper before a meeting, when I felt the ground shake. Puzzled, I looked up at the secretaries who were having lunch at the table next to me, thinking perhaps one of them must have moved a chair or the table, and saw our administrative assistant, Sonia Brown, run out, and then I glanced to the water cooler. Water was sloshing around in it, then the floor shook again and the other secretary shouted at me, "Get out NOW!" So I ran into my office, grabbed my sunglasses, pager, and keys, and the secretary came back and said, "We have just had an earthquake, come NOW!" So I ran outside where people were milling around in disbelief and shock. It was at that moment when I realized we had actually just experienced a true earthquake. What a strange sensation to feel the ground move beneath you as if it were vibrating!

After a while we were asked to go to the football field to wait while buildings were inspected, and on the way there, I saw that the side of Peet Hall had cracked and that some bricks had fallen from other buildings. When I got to the football field, we were told we could go home for the rest of the day.

The next day when I got to work, I checked 'Ole Jim and everything looked intact, except for the roof which tilted a teeny tiny bit, and we agreed if it were not for the renovations done to it in 2007, 'Ole Jim would surely have fallen apart!

Sonia Brown, Administrative Assistant

My co-worker, Darlene Curley, and I decided to have lunch together in the 'Ole Jim kitchen area. We were talking while Abby was focusing on the papers in the copy machine. All of a sudden, the kitchen area was shaking (hard) and I looked at Darlene and we both said… why is the kitchen area shaking? The water cooler bottle was shaking. I heard a loud noise coming from the upper level, and my first reaction … oh no!!! The beams upstairs are loose and the building is about to collapse and the four of us are stuck in here!!!. I yelled to Darlene, 'Let’s get out of here! Please get Abby NOW!!!' I ran out into the front area of 'Ole Jim and saw the concerned look on Sam’s face, too. The entire building was shaking. We all ran outside. I had no idea it was an earthquake. No damage, but the pictures on the wall were tilted.

Wow!!! What an experience!!!

Posted: 7 Sep 2011

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