kc community news logoSeptember 14, 2007 - Memories are alive, but university thrives in Northland

Two years ago, Grantham University, headquartered in Slidell, La., near New Orleans, disappeared from the landscape, a victim of Hurricane Katrina.

It was 80 percent destroyed, and university officials scrambled to find their employees and decide about the future.

The university had started a satellite facility in Kansas City, and officials decided to move the entire campus to Zona Rosa, and brought more than 60 employees from the home campus to the new location.

"I love it here, but I miss my kids," said Lisa McCann, project manager, one of more than 20 Louisiana transplants who stayed here. "But in a way I was lucky. Three weeks after we got here my husband was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He was treated here, but had we stayed in Louisiana, he probably would have died because there were no hospitals operating."

For DeAnn Wandler, director of admissions, the first few days after Katrina were a nightmare. She spent almost two days stuck in traffic escaping the disaster. She finally set up a makeshift operation in a motel in Arkansas.

"I was on the phone trying to locate project managers and about 80 employees scattered all over," Wandler said. "We had to let them know what the university plan was as it became more and more evident that the university campus was gone."

She had rented a home on Lake Pontchartrain, but most of her personal possessions were lost.

"It was quite sad," she said. "To this day, I look back on it with sadness."

But she said Grantham University was terrific. It paid for lodging and expenses for months until employees found their own homes.

"Less than a week after we got to Kansas City, we were operational," she said.

She misses New Orleans with its special ambiance but likes it in Kansas City. She is still a lake person and purchased a home on Weatherby Lake in Platte County.

"People here really opened their arms to us," she said. "They are so friendly and very solid people."

McCann agreed that people in Kansas City were special.

"People are basically the same where ever you go, but they are very friendly here," she said. "In the winter, someone comes and blows the snow off my driveway. And in the summer, I often find a basket of fresh vegetables outside my front door."

But memories of Katrina do not disappear. The university has since put a high priority on security when locating its most valuable asset, its bookstore.

Grantham opted to locate it in Hunt Midwest's SubTropolis, where the store houses more than 250,000 books that cover more than 180 university course offerings.

Joseph McHale, criminal justice program director at the school, was given the task of finding a place for the store.

"The caves serve our purpose," he said. "SubTropolis offered the best environment for the bookstore and the most secure location."

McHale said the inventory could grow to 500,000 volumes as the university grows. The store ships an average of 300 books a day to locations around the world for the online university. Up to 60 percent of the enrollment is military.