Welcome to My World

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jan 29, 2011

"There is no substitute for hard work."
Thomas A. Edison

With his arms widely extended and a huge smile on his face, Gary greeted me with the words "Welcome to my world!" 

It was a beautiful, crisp fall morning as I was walking across our campus from our home to my office when I noticed the huge sliding door of the remaining old steam power plant open, Gary's truck parked just outside. On a whim I changed my routine and stepped inside to see what he was doing. The next 15 minutes gave me a window into a world I hardly knew existed. 

As just about everyone in our community knows, our college campus is located on the site of the Valley Forge General Military Hospital which was opened in 1943 and remained open for thirty years. From World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, thousands and thousands of injured soldiers found their bodies and souls repaired here. At the high point nearly 3000 patients and 2000 caregivers received and gave care to one another. 

Since 1976 when our college moved here and our original 84 acres expanded now to nearly 110 acres, our campus has gone through an amazing metamorphosis. Old buildings have come down. New buildings have been gone up. Just about every remaining building has been remodeled. Multiple millions of dollars have been invested in improving the property. 

But one old steam power plant still remains. Once there were five such buildings with two boilers in each one. The brick chimneys could be seen from all over our community. In considerable disrepair, I will never forget seeing those chimneys come down about ten years ago. Little by little we have decentralized the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) into each building so that now there are only four remaining buildings using that steam plant. 

Walking inside was like walking into the bowels of a foreign country. The smells of decades of old pipes and fuel hung suspended in the air like invisible ghosts of the past. The huge boilers were built right here in Phoenixville and installed in 1957. The first ones had only lasted 13 years. 

Gary explained how they worked. He let me look through the two inch round glass window to see the flames burning at full tilt. He showed me the auxiliary containers for water and steam and chemicals and how they were all connected by pipes that seemed to be going everywhere. 

When the boiler is running, he spends an hour and a half each morning to make sure everything is running smoothly. With an Eco-Lab kit, every day he checks the chemical composition of the water to inform his calibration of the chemicals. As I watched him take his sample and pour it in a small container, with a smile on his face he described himself as a "mad scientist at work." 

All around were old tools which could undoubtedly tell a million stories. Gary showed me my first barrel wrench. Who knows what the old vice on that old work bench must have held. Miles and miles of pipe must have been cut by that old pipe cutter. 

Sure, an era on our campus is about to come to a close. In a year or two we expect to shut down that old power plant for more energy efficient furnaces. But until that happens, we are profoundly grateful for Gary's expertise and daily sacrifice while he commits some of the best time of his day in the early morning to make sure those four buildings are warm. 

As I continued the walk to my office, I realized again how grateful I am for everyone on our campus who contributes to our mission. And on graduation day, I will also think of Gary because without his help and the help of all of his colleagues in the facilities department, commencement at VFCC could never happen. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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