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Opinion: We're seeing the best in people during the worst times

Kent D. MacDonald and Timothy G. Nash

Recent events rekindle the opening line of Charles Dickens’ fictional classic, “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Unlike Dickens’ work however, our story is true.

Our “best of times” — we work at Northwood University’s main campus in Midland and live in the vibrant Great Lakes Bay region.

Our “worst of times” — Midland and Northwood have been adversely impacted by the economic and political constraints used to fight the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in significant GDP losses through the first half of the year.

Kent MacDonald, president of Northwood University, looks at some of the flooding near campus, in Midland, May 21, 2020.

Intensifying our plight, Northwood and Midland were devastated by historic flooding due to the failure of two nearby dams. This preventable tragedy resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage caused by inexcusable negligence.

The community response that followed the floods symbolizes the indomitable spirit of Midlanders and what we at Northwood believe it means to be free. That, in times of crisis, it’s the individual and private groups who often respond more quickly and effectively than government.

Midland’s many volunteer and philanthropic organizations, along with faith-based groups far and near, activated quickly and adroitly to serve the community with labor, hope, comfort and relief. We believe this can-do effort is reflective of a special DNA woven throughout the social fabric of America to do what’s right and help those in need.

As flood waters were still receding, Midlanders, supported by Northwood’s faculty, staff and students,  immediately began to volunteer their time, talent and treasure. These caring citizens cleaned flooded basements, ripped out contaminated dry wall and flooring, removed trash, and donated financially.

Upon reflection, it’s a beautiful experience to see citizens act swiftly and freely, taking responsibility for themselves and their neighbors.

A shining example of our collective humanity is the community’s response to the plight of a colleague, professor Glenn Moots, whose home located near one of the failed dams was devastated. Long before a government entity knew of his predicament, friends and inspired strangers arrived in his hour of need. A GoFundMe page raised substantial dollars. Hundreds of volunteers cleaned up and started clearing debris to begin reconstruction — never asking for a dime. Additionally, these volunteers, especially the family‘s larger church body, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, provided hope the home would be restored by Christmas.

As a university, we continue to respond decisively to mitigate the significant flood damage. We’re determined to make the campus better and more resilient when we open this fall.

Midland ultimately is coming back faster than most thought possible. Not because of government or insurance company intervention (whose critically important roles continue to take shape), but rather a profound sense of community fueled by volunteerism and massive doses of individual kindness and charity.

As a community (Midlanders, Timberwolves and our Mid-Michigan neighbors), we can all take great pride in our fast and compassionate “best of times” response.  We are living proof that “the worst of times” brings out the very best of a free people who can and do accomplish great things.  

Kent D. MacDonald is president of Northwood University and Timothy G. Nash is senior vice president and director of the McNair Center at Northwood University.