There I was dangling from a rope. My feet had lost their footing for a second, and adrenaline pumped through my system as I tried my best to get them back to the stone wall. The sound of music and voice of Lisa Gleason, Executive Director of the United Way of Reno County, echoed from down below on Main Street while the shade of the First National Bank building protected me from the sweltering late afternoon summer heat. It was my first time to rappel, and I could not think of a better place to do it than from off one of the tallest buildings in Downtown Hutchinson. Still, the thought of how I ended up where I was kept running through my mind.
I first learned about the idea of United Way of Reno County’s Over the Edge last August when I was picking up t-shirts for my honors students who were taking part in our annual clean up of Carey Park for the United Way’s Day of Service. Tona Turner, the former executive director, asked me my thoughts of a fundraiser that involved people like me rappelling off the First National Bank building on at the next summer’s Third Thursday. As she described the event to me, thoughts of previous events throughout Downtown’s history ran through my mind. There was, of course, Spot the horse and his rider on top of the Wiley Building in 1941 as well as all sorts of other images and memories of events that have taken place on Main Street both in my life and before.
Without a doubt, I could see what Tona described as becoming a part of Hutch’s history. The First National Bank of Hutchinson alone has played a large role in the history of both the city of Hutchinson and my life. For Hutchinson itself, First National Bank came to that location back in 1876. It transformed into Hutchinson’s first skyscraper in 1911 based upon designs by Daniel Burnham, the same Chicago architect who designed New York City’s Flatiron Building and Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, and many other iconic buildings throughout the country. The building was then expanded in 1957 and again in 1972-1974 to its current state.
It was this building that grabbed my attention when I first moved here back in 2007 and was looking for a local bank. It was also here I spent a summer as an intern for the Hutchinson Community Foundation when I cleaned their storage room to transform it into my summer office where I would arrive each morning to look out their fifth-floor windows towards the east side of Main Street and all of the land beyond, including the grain elevator that once had the claim of fame of being the world’s longest (it’s second now). A few years later, I then began spending many more hours on that floor as a board member for that same amazing organization and eventually the chair of their grants committee. Plus, there were many memories of breakfasts and lunches at Downtown Sampler, the tasty restaurant on the second floor, and then there were the times meeting John on top of the parking garage to bring him something or another when he was working evenings there when he was going back to school. Plus, it is on Main Street, and to say I have a great love for Downtown Hutchinson would be an understatement.
On top of the location, the event also had the pull of being a fundraiser for the United Way of Reno County, which has changed the lives of so many through the money they raise during their annual campaign that goes to support many of the fantastic non-profits here in the area including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Reno County, Boys & Girls Club, Hospice of Reno County, Interfaith Housing Services, New Beginnings, Salvation Army, Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center, The Volunteer Center of Reno County, and many more working hard to improve living conditions for our local population. Then they also have greatly helped with early childhood education here in the community too, something that is very dear to my heart, and have partnered with Hutchinson Recreation Commission, Reno County Health Department, and the City of Hutchinson with the Southwest Bricktown Neighborhood Initiative which has led to many wonderful things as well.
So thanks to the history of the building, the great work the United Way does, and my New Year’s Resolution #1 for this year to live a better story, I couldn’t resist signing up back in February to be one of the people to rappel down the side of the building. Each person though was to meet a financial goal of $1000 in order to go over the edge of the First National Bank building. This is where once again I was reminded I am horrible at fundraising. I would craft Facebook posts and emails to share with others, but then not hit either the submit or send button at the last moment. I was going to write a blog post back in March about the upcoming event, but well, you can see that didn’t happen. My plan, though, was to fund, as I tend to try to do with fundraisers, most of it myself, but a $1600 vet bill for Callie in April and another extremely large sum of money for summer graduate courses led to that plan failing too. By the end of May, I had given up on reaching the goal and getting a chance to be part of this piece of Hutchinson history.
However, the kind hearts of those at the United Way decided to let those who had signed up but had not reach the financial goal still rappel and let us still try to raise money throughout the rest of the month of June (if you would like to donate, please do so by going here) as well as have us be able to talk about the amazing experience that it was so even more people will want to sign up the next time they do this. When I received this email on Tuesday, I was thrilled to say the least, and soon I had one of the last scheduled times so I wouldn’t miss out on meeting with new honors students at the Enrollment Day at work.
After changing out my dress shoes into hiking boots (I figured they had the best traction out of anything I owned), I drove quickly downtown yesterday afternoon still wearing a pair of dress pants and my standard white button-up shirt (the tie and jacket were left behind though) to experience something new. Throughout the day, I had caught a few pics, videos, and Snapchats of some of my other friends going down the building, and with each, I became both a little more excited and a little more nervous. I won’t lie and say there was not a brief moment of hesitation when I climbed out of my car and saw the building before me. Stopping for a second, I looked up at its top, took in a huge breath, told myself all will be well, and then walked forward to find the always amazing and wonderful Bailey to capture a few shots of my rappel on the camera I had brought. Then it was to the Downtown Sampler area on the second floor to get geared up before going to the top of the building.
My arrival was at the same time as a few others as well, and we chatted as we were decked out in our harnesses and gloves with everything being checked time and again. Then a friendly face of a friend of mine, Adam, greeted us in the hallway to take us up to the roof where we went through a thorough training session to go over the gear and how to rappel down the side of a building. I tried to pay as much attention as possible to the lever that would ease us down and all of the safety mechanisms as my mind raced in many different directions especially towards the recurring thought of what if I am the first one that day to get stuck going down and would need to be saved somehow. Then afterwards, it was waiting for our turn to go. Jon, another guy getting ready to go through this experience, and I took in the sights from the top of the building. The sky was unbelievable clear as we looked out upon the tree-filled city we call home. To say the view was stunning would be an understatement. I took in another deep breath and then went towards my destination.
The first step is a doozy was what I was told earlier, and as I stood there on the ledge, I could easily see why. Here were these two ropes that were keeping me from fall seven stories to the land below. I made small talk with the guy helping me take that first step, which I may or may not have been delaying. He was from Chattanooga and was very nice. I smiled at my friends, Cory, Chelsea, and Adam, who were also on top of the building and then took that doozy of a step.
The feeling was indescribable. It was this sort of mix of fear, excitement, happiness, and awe with each step I took down the side of the building. I could hear Lisa down below being a fantastic emcee as she talked about different things I had done in the community while getting the crowd to cheer me on. I could see so much as my eyes would shift from the wall in front of me where I tried to slowly take each step to the world around me. The windows on both sides of me were the biggest surprise, for they provided this great reflection of the city of Hutchinson. I was also trying to count each floor so I could stop and wave at my Hutchinson Community Foundation friends (It turns out I waved tons at the sixth floor instead of the fifth though). Even when I would lose my footing, it would only be for a second as my thoughts went right back to the detailed training Mike had shared with us. Mainly, though, I was smiling because it was an experience like nothing I had ever had before and may never have again.
Although it seemed like it took me quite some time to get down, I had made it back to the second level landing spot to be helped by some local volunteers. My heart was still racing a bit as I thanked everyone for letting me have this truly amazing experience before I found my way to next to Bailey on the street. More friends were soon by my side, and text messages were coming with photos and videos taken by many from all different places and heights. Everything was both a blur and clear at the same time. And I just kept looking up at the tall building before me, thinking how grateful I was to the United Way for giving me this experience that will be relived every time I see this skyscraper in the heart of Hutchinson, Kansas.
As always, thank you for reading this post. If you would like to help the United Way of Reno County with the great work they do, please do not hesitate to make a donation by using this link that will help me get closer to my financial goal.