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Nov. 21, 2014
In the fall of 1969, Northwest Missouri State University was a tightly laid-out campus with about 5,000 students, and freshmen were not allowed to have vehicles on the campus. Today, of course, the campus has grown considerably to support more than 6,700 students who carry computers in backpacks while listening to music and checking email on their phones.
John Redden witnessed the growth and changes firsthand while developing knowledge of nearly every square-foot of the campus during his 45 years of work with the institution’s Facility Services team.
He had worked his way up to associate director of facilities and decided this fall it was time to step away. He retired officially from Northwest on Oct. 31.
The Northwest and Maryville communities are invited to express their thanks to Redden, who also volunteered for decades with Maryville’s fire department, during a soup and chili supper from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, sponsored by the Maryville and Polk Township fire departments at St. Gregory’s Church, 315 S. Davis St. Members of Northwest’s Sigma Society will serve patrons, and the event will include a silent auction. Proceeds will go toward medial research for diseases affecting firefighters.
“I’ve spent a lot of hours out here – and a lot of nights,” Redden said on his final day at Northwest. “There was a while there, the phone would ring and my wife would say, ‘What’s broke down now?’ The phone was always right beside my bed. The phone would ring and you get up and go, no matter what you were doing.”
Redden grew up in Conception, in a home that sits on a hill just north of the abbey. But as a youth, he barely knew Northwest existed just 18 miles away.
“We never came to Maryville,” he says. “When we went to town, we went to town on Saturday and we went to Stanberry. I didn’t even know there was a campus until I started working out here. I didn’t know anything about Northwest Missouri State.”
In the late 1960s, Redden became acquainted with the Northwest campus not as an employee of the institution but as a construction worker. After graduating high school, he was drafted into the Army and served two years in Germany. Then, after “six months plowing around in the mud,” Redden decided he needed to look for other work. The company overseeing the construction of Northwest’s new Valk Center hired Redden as a general labor worker.
“That concrete was all done with Georgia buggies and wheel barrows,” he recalls. “There was no concrete pumps when we poured all that. We were in good shape when we built that.”
It was a fitting beginning for Redden, whose fingerprints are all over Northwest facilities. When a position opened at the electric shop in Northwest’s power plant a short time later, Redden left construction work and began his employment with the University in October 1969 at a salary of $4,700 a year.
Later, Redden helped build the University’s former aquatic center, which is about to undergo remodeling to become a fitness center. He aided in numerous renovations as enrollment grew and the Northwest campus expanded.
Ask Redden to name the thing he’s most proud of about his time at Northwest and he begins, without hesitation, talking about his role in the alternative fuels program. After years of planning and experimenting, Northwest launched the innovative program in 1982, and it has saved the University millions of dollars in energy costs.
“We pretty much started from the bottom up on that one,” Redden said, recalling a Christmas Day that he and former director of maintenance Bob Bush spent working to fire up the new wood plant. “We tore it all apart and completely rebuilt it and made it work. We spent several nights, several days, 24 hours at a time and we never left until we finally got it to go.”
Today, Northwest’s alternative fuels program is one of the University’s signature initiatives with wood and paper fuels accounting for 58 percent of the campus’ total energy consumption and 88 percent of its heating requirement.
Redden and Northwest were in the planning stages for that alternative fuels program when the University was dealt a blow many didn’t think it could survive – the Administration Building fire on July 24, 1979.
“On top of the hill, coming this way, you could see the glow in the sky – I get chills just talking about that – on Highway 136, east of town,” Redden said. “We spent all night, all day and all night the next night here.”
Members of the Maryville Volunteer Fire Department had recruited Redden to join them several years before that devastating fire. During his nearly 40 years of service, he ascended to the rank of captain and saw the department grow to 20 volunteers serving Maryville and 10 serving Polk Township. Three of Redden’s five children – sons Chris and Rick and daughter Angie – also volunteer for the department.
“It was just something that needed to be done and they needed volunteers,” Redden said. “When I started, they would supply us a pair of boots, a coat and a helmet, but no pants. So we went to St. Joe and we bought Army surplus canvas pants, and that’s what we used to wear. Now it takes $3,000 to put a guy in fire gear.”
On the night the Administration Building burned, Redden helped fight the fire both on the ground and from the inside the historic building. With the fire raging inside the Deerwester Theater on the back side of the building, firefighters committed themselves to preventing the fire from moving deeper into the structure and saving the east and west wings.
Redden moved with a group of firefighters onto the second floor of the Administration Building toward the entrance of the theater, located where the University’s admissions and advisement offices are today. The thick smoke made it nearly impossible for firefighters to see.
“Abraham Lincoln was standing there and they thought there was somebody standing there and they kept yelling at him,” Redden said. “He didn’t move and we finally just picked him up and moved him.”
Then the roof of the theater collapsed. People at the Administration Building that night often recall the nightmarish sound of the collapse.
“It just rattled that whole building up there,” Redden said. “It busted windows. There was such a hellacious fuel load. You couldn’t get into it because there was brick all around it, and when the roof burned out, it finally vented and went out. If that roof hadn’t burned off, it would have come back into the main building and went up through there.”
The recovery efforts began almost immediately, and Redden assisted with those, too.
“For two days, we just moved stuff out of that building,” he said. “Stored it here, stored it there. File cabinets here and file cabinets there.”
The commitment Redden showed to helping the University and the community then is the kind of example he set throughout his career at Northwest and with the Maryville Fire Department, said Maryville Fire Capt. Phil Rickabaugh, who has known Redden for most of his life and began serving with him on the fire department in 1985.
“Anybody who knows John knows he’s a little gruff, but he’s got the heart of a teddy bear,” Rickabaugh said. “He cares about the community and he cares about the guys he works with. I could always rely on John when we had a problem. He was someone we could go to, and we’d put our heads together.”
In recent years, Redden’s contributions have helped advance Northwest’s growing emergency disaster management (EDM) program. He often assists with Northwest’s Campus Community Emergency Response Team training as well as Missouri Hope, a large-scale disaster simulation that plays out each fall at Mozingo Outdoor Education Recreation Area. The fictional town used within the simulation is named Redden Village in his honor.
“He gets it,” said Matt Johnson, a Northwest history instructor who teaches in the EDM program and volunteers for the Maryville Fire Department. “He gets what this University is about and the meshing of the University and community needs.”
Redden says he recognizes now that it’s time for the next generation to take his place but insists he’ll remain ready to step in when he receives a call with a request for help.
“It’s been fun. It’s been educational. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go,” Redden said, noting he worked under four presidents at Northwest. “When they called, you went and helped them, and they knew who we were.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468