Perhaps no group of alumni in the country can understand the physical and emotional impact of natural disasters to the extent that Gusties do.
After the March 29, 1998 tornado tore a destructive path across campus and the city of St. Peter, it seems that Gustavus alumni have a special place in their hearts for victims of such disasters.
Meet Jayne Sommers. A 2002 graduate of Gustavus, Sommers grew up in Minot, North Dakota, a city of roughly 40,000 people that has been devastated this summer by historic flood waters from the swollen Souris River.
Sommers now lives in the Twin Cities and is the Coordinator of Orientation and First Year Programs at Hamline University, but has plenty of family and friends who still live in Minot who have been affected by the flooding.
“I know people who I grew up with who have been traumatized by this event,” Sommers said. “I thought a lot about the tornado and the look in people’s eyes in St. Peter when the weather gets to that point. Once you’ve lived through that you can’t let go of those emotions.”
After seeing pictures and reading news reports online and reading her friends’ often sad and desperate Facebook updates, Sommers decided that she wanted to help flood victims despite being 500 miles away from her hometown.
After talking to several friends from high school, the idea of a benefit was circulated and Sommers took the reins and ran with it.
- Conveniently, Sommers’ husband Matty O’Reilly is the owner of three Twin Cities restaurants, including the newly opened Republic in the Seven Corners district near downtown Minneapolis.
With a welcoming venue already in hand, Sommers could focus on other aspects of the event including publicity, entertainment, and securing items for a silent auction.
“It all kind of came together serendipitously,” Sommers said. “Matt had just opened Republic, we were able to line up bands from Minot to come down and play and it all just fell into place.”
Silent auction items included a Harmon Killebrew signed baseball, a signed picture of Minot native and actor Josh Duhamel, and signed scripts from the television shows Mad Men and Breaking Bad which were donated by actor Rich Sommer.
The event was called “MSP hearts MOT,” and it took place Sunday, July 17. Attendees gave a minimum donation of $10 and O’Reilly generously donated 10 percent of restaurant sales from that night.
Close to 300 people attended the benefit and more than $21,000 was raised for the Minot Area Community Foundation.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to help people whose lives have unexpectedly been turned upside down,” Sommers said. “It’s hard to see a place you love go through something like this, but just like Gustavus and St. Peter, Minot is the kind of community that will survive this and rebuild and come back even stronger.”
For those interested in giving to the Minot Area Community Foundation, go online to centerforcommunitygiving.com.