Wednesday, December, 13th, 2017

My Story By Patricia McGarvey 1978

Stories by Alumni

It was another rainy afternoon at Toccoa Falls. Most of us—students, faculty, and staff—know what it feels like to winter at the college. Days can be cloudy and there is always an abundance of rain. But the few days leading up to the flood were different. There was something about the unrelenting rainfall that caused many of us to think about the dam and wonder if everything would be okay. A friend and myself had been scheduled to spend the night with Aunt Mary and Uncle Paul. Their home was located on what we called Residence Row. Later, I discovered that it was right in the center of the flood’s path. A last minute change of plans put me at a different location that night. I ended up at the home of one of the college’s professors. She and her husband had insisted that I come for a visit and at the last minute I decided to take their offer.

With Aunt Mary’s house key in hand, I walked across campus and opened the door to the Christian Service offices where I expected to see her sitting behind her desk looking up at me with a full smile. But she was not there. Quickly, I searched for something to write a note to her saying my plans had changed. I had no way of knowing that this would be my last communication with her.

Hours later, after warm cups of cocoa and conversation with friends had faded, the blaring ring of the telephone woke us from a deep sleep. I heard voices talking. Something had happened. Footsteps hurried to the room where I had been sleeping. The door opened and then there was the news—words that brought an indefinable sense of shock. The Kelly Barnes dam located above the falls had failed. The water from the lake had emptied quickly and swallowed up portions of the college’s lower campus. In a matter of minutes, homes had been washed away. The full realization that the many people we knew and loved were either missing or dead dawned upon us slowly. Among those were Aunt Mary and Uncle Paul.

The rest of that night was spent relaying messages to friends, family members, faculty and staff who could not access the college because telephone lines were down. Always in the back of my mind was the fact that a large portion of what I knew as familiar was gone. Shortly after dawn, several of us found our way back on campus. This is where we belonged—with those we knew and loved. I remember walking with a friend up to an area beside the David Ovens Student Center and looking down on what had been Residence Row a few hours earlier. Nothing was left—only the debris of what once was remained.

How do we trace God’s hand through something so devastating? Each life that intersected with Toccoa Falls that night can share his or her story—from a life that was spared because of circumstances changing hours beforehand, to the life that fled just ahead of the angry waters, to the life that was enveloped by God’s peace that passes understanding while watching a wife and son slip into eternity, to the heart that reached up in faith to their Creator. God’s hand can be traced because true to His promises, hope does come from tribulation, strength does come from weakness, joy does come from sadness, welcoming does come from separation and life does come from death—life eternal! What is your story?

Patricia McGarvey ‘78
Past President TFAA Board

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