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Tech fair brings out emotion

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

The five-year anniversary of the devastating Greensburg tornado is Friday.

Students from the small south-central Kansas town celebrated their survival from that tragedy a week early Friday at Fort Hays State University.

Kiowa County High School in Greensburg won the top award for multi-people projects at the 53rd annual Western Kansas Technology Education Fair at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Minutes later, Peter Kern's students also were awarded the plaque for the most outstanding technology program for the 2012 tech fair.

Helping the Kiowa County students take home the top overall award was a woodworking project -- a five-piece living room set, featuring a large entertainment center -- the students had made for the town's new Senior Center.

It was a bonanza day for Kiowa County and Kern, in their first trip back to the fair since the tornado, which destroyed 95 percent of the town and killed 11 people.

Many folks moved away from Greensburg to start a new life after the EF5 tornado.

Many others decided to stick around and rebuild -- both their homes and their lives.

One of those was Kern, who just had completed his first year as the industrial technology teacher when his life changed, along with everyone else's in Greensburg, on May 4, 2007.

"We were here (at the technology fair) about this time, and then a week later ... " Kern said of that roller-coaster week.

Kern, similar to others, could have left town, too.

But, he said, "I felt committed, like we should stay."

Kern got a bit emotional while reminiscing, and it wasn't only from memories of the tornado and its aftermath.

He is a graduate of Fort Hays and took classes under Fred Ruda, chairman of the technology studies department who died three weeks ago today, in an automobile accident on Easter Sunday.

"We all thought a lot of him," Kern said of Ruda, who was in his 39th year of teaching at Fort Hays.

In Ruda's honor, staff and students in the technology studies department gave out an award called the Fred Ruda Legacy Award.

Starting next year, the award will go to a project or program, which is voted on by the participants they believe left the biggest impact on that particular fair.

This year's award, however, will stay in Hays.

Kim Stewart, who replaced Ruda as department chairman, held the plaque with Ruda's cast likeness tightly in his hands late Friday afternoon at the conclusion of the fair. He had plans to take the plaque to Ruda's home in Hays and give it to his wife, Sherrill.

"Sherrill doesn't know anything about this; she hasn't seen it yet," Stewart said of the award and the plaque. "But she will tonight."

Junior and senior high schools from the western part of the state, and a few from eastern Kansas as well, took part in the tech fair, which gives students a chance to display their woodworking, metals, drafting and arts and crafts projects, as well as participate in several technology competitions.

While most of the projects were built for the students themselves or other family members, even some pets will reap the benefit of the students' work.

Students in Vicki Jacobs' home repair and maintenance class at Cimarron High School entered a doghouse, complete with a porch and swing-out window.

Jacobs, in her sixth year as the woodworking and drafting teacher at Cimarron, ordered the plans for the doghouse online and bought the materials by herself.

Jacobs said she isn't sure yet what will become of the house, but if nothing else, her Cocker Spaniel and two Brittanys could have a new home in the future.

Several of the top awards were won by Ellis County students.

Hays High School, under the direction of Chris Dinkel, won the power and energy award for its electric car program.

Brad Moritz's Felten Middle School students made a clean sweep of the junior high's metric 500 competition, where eighth-grader Bradyn Meredith recorded first- and third-place finishes and classmate Christian Wright placed second.

Kennedy Middle School's team of eighth-graders Jacob Meis, Ryan Ruder and Jared Vitztum, taught by Todd Taylor, claimed top honors in the junior high problem solving contest, and Kennedy's trio of eighth-graders Luis Blanco, Fernando Guzman and Nathan Rohr finished third in the communications competition.

Taking home the most hardware for Ellis County were eighth-grade students in Bruce Engel's industrial technology classes at Victoria Middle School, who combined for two second-place finishes (problem solving and communication) and a third (technology challenge).

Members of those teams, in different combinations, were Jacy Braun, Brandon Brungardt, Taylor Corley, Brady Dinkel, Joe Dortland, Wheaton Hockersmith, Lane Kisner, Brianna Leiker, Derek Linn, Parker Riedel, Kiley Schmidtberger, Taylor Stramel and Grant Weber.

"This is an exceptional group of eighth-graders," Engel said, "especially when they compete as a team."