June 24, 2014 4:00PM
On Monday, June 30, Pittsburg State University will pause for a moment to recall one of the most dramatic and pivotal moments in its history. At 10 a.m., the university will hold a brief ceremony in front of Russ Hall to mark the centennial of the Russ Hall fire.
As part of the ceremony, the university will honor Rex Tanner, the student who died fighting the fire; the brave firefighters who risked their lives in the endeavor and the community that rallied around the young school to ensure that it would continue. The Pittsburg Fire Department will be special guests of the university for the program.
Following the brief ceremony, guests will be invited to view historical exhibits in Russ Hall that will include artifacts from the fire and the period.
Only Apple Day, which is linked to the founding of the university, rivals the Russ Hall fire among the many significant events in PSU’s rich and colorful history.
Late in the stormy night of June 29, 1914, a bolt of lightning struck The Main (now Russ Hall), a six-year-old building that was the first permanent home for the young State Manual Training Normal School.
In the wee hours of June 30, Pittsburg firemen, students, faculty and community members raced to battle the fire that quickly engulfed the building.
As dawn broke, the scene was heartbreaking. The Main was a smoldering shell. One student, Rex Tanner, was dead. At least two firemen had minor injuries and the future of the school was in doubt.
It was a test of leadership for the school’s new president, William Brandenburg, and for the community, which in a matter of hours pledged the funds needed to rebuild and ensure the school’s future.
Today, the story of the Russ Hall fire is one of the first things new students learn about the history of Pittsburg State University. It is repeated for each generation of Gorillas as a symbol of the strength and character of the institution and of the community that continues to support and nurture the university.