Hear from the people of Kent as they brave this week’s merciless cold

Mark Miller, the pastor of Portage Community Chapel, walks underneath the Haymaker Parkway bridge on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, to drop off supplies to the people living in tent shelters in Kent. 

KentWired Staff

Mark Miller doesn’t mind the cold.

Bundled in his warm coat and boots, he carefully picked his way down an icy slope underneath the Haymaker Parkway bridge Tuesday night. As he lit his way with a flashlight, Miller walked through the snow with a large blanket, personal hygiene supplies, socks and hats.

He doesn’t mind the cold because it’s his mission to help the homeless.

Miller is the founder of Haven, a new homeless shelter and resource center set to open this fall in Ravenna. He and his son, Caleb, spend their days delivering supplies in the extreme cold.

As temperatures sank to lows not seen since 1994, Miller is still outdoors, trying to help those less fortunate than he.

“We have to be out here,” he said. “The weather has no compassion. Everyone thinks they can survive it; it will catch up to them.”

He’s also the pastor at Portage County Community Chapel, and helps victims of trafficking and people who are displaced. Miller said his service and faith are intertwined.

“God,” he said. “I really feel like Christ told me to do this.”


On Kent State’s main campus, brutal gusts of Arctic wind roared by, and the main campus was mostly deserted. Due to the severe weather, the university closed all of its campuses both Wednesday and Thursday.

Temperatures reached lows of 4 degrees below zero overnight Tuesday and a high of 4 degrees during the day Wednesday. Wind chills as low as 27 degrees below zero were common in Northeast Ohio and the upper Midwest, according to the National Weather Service.

Portage County closed its offices, and some local businesses told employees to stay home, rather than risk the frigid and dangerous weather conditions.

At least six deaths were attributed to the weather system, including two in the Detroit area. The bitter cold is the result of a polar vortex that allowed cold temperatures to drop much farther south than normal. Temperatures in parts of the Midwest were lower Wednesday than in Antarctica, where the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station hit negative 25 degrees — balmy compared to Fargo, North Dakota’s 31 degrees below zero and Minneapolis’ 27 degrees below zero.


In Ravenna, Donna Difiore worked Tuesday at the Center of Hope, a local food shelter, to help prepare for later in the week when the intense winter weather would send a shock through the community.

Difiore, a coordinator, has volunteered at the center for seven years. She said when temperatures are 10 degrees or lower, they’re open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. When the cold is as extreme as it was Wednesday and is predicted to be Thursday, the facility opens its doors for 24 hours and provides a warming center for the local community.

“I love giving back,” she said with a smile. “I’m here no matter what … to make sure people have a warm place, a safe place.”

Inside, Stephen Cotton and his brother, Matthew, waited out the cold. The men share a house in Kent, but said they fell on hardship when their father died two years ago. The house currently has no utilities.


As dangerous winds plagued the city Wednesday, Kent police officers draped themselves in layers and relied on hand warmers to combat the bone-chilling temperatures.

“We’re concerned about anyone’s exposure to the elements, but we know our officers may spend more time outside than anyone,” Lt. Mike Lewis said.

The department worries about local residents when the weather is so frigid, and safety is its first priority. The officers spent most of Wednesday patrolling the city, on the lookout for people in need of help.

“Any motorist who breaks down … will need help very quickly,” Lewis said. “Cars tend to have trouble in weather this cold. Batteries die, radiators freeze.”

Lewis added one of his biggest concerns is seeing animals left outside on days like this.


Lt. Jeff Coffee climbed into his white and yellow Ford Explorer and drove over to an assisted living facility. When he walked inside, a woman in a wheelchair pointed the Kent City fireman in the direction of some other EMTs. Soon after, an ambulance took a woman who was having chest pains to the hospital.

Coffee said the woman recently moved to the area from Florida — he thinks the change in climate, coupled with the frigid cold, likely contributed to her feelings of anxiety, which can lead to chest pain.

He said the jobs of people who work at the fire department change quickly when the weather is exceptionally cold.

Firefighters have to be careful with the hoses because once it is cold enough, water can freeze very quickly and force them to deal with ice on the ground, as well as the fire in front of them, he said.

Water and sweat can also freeze inside their gear, making it both uncomfortable and potentially dangerous to them.

Brock Murphy, another Kent firefighter, said many of the calls related to weather usually don’t occur until temperatures go back up. The shift from cold to warm leads to frozen pipes thawing and sometimes bursting, which can cause fire sprinklers to unnecessarily go off.


University Oaks residents Patrick Oguya, a junior aeronautics and engineering major, and Hamad Al-Mahmoud, a freshman aeronautics and engineering major, said they weren’t excited about this week’s weather.

“We come from a warm-weather place,” Oguya said. “This right here is kind of new to us. We are not used to it.”

Al-Mahmoud is from Dubai, but he previously lived in North Carolina. He piped in that this is his first time seeing this much snow.

“I have no words,” Al-Mahmoud said.


Sophomore mathematics major Ronan Waroquet didn’t feel like cold weather was a big enough reason to cancel classes.

That changed when he went outside.

“As soon as I was out for one minute, two minutes, I actually was in pain,” Waroquet said.

The University Library, usually teeming with students, was nearly empty Wednesday.

“It kind of feels like an apocalyptic world,” sophomore marketing major Haley Caldwell said.

A short distance away, freshman global studies major Jennifer Sepulveda sat in Eastway. She said she was there for breakfast around 9 a.m. and didn’t plan to leave until dinnertime to avoid walking through the cold.

“I’ve been staying here, actually, because the food is in the building, and I don’t want to go back to my room yet,” Sepulveda said.

On front campus, sophomore fashion design major Natalie Brand carried her belongings into Rockwell. She walks to the building every day to access the studio, and when temperatures are this cold, “it’s not easy.”

Brand said she wore two layers of socks and pants just to walk across campus.


Darrell DeLoach, the housekeeping supervisor of Tri-Towers and Korb Hall, said in a deep freeze, both the housekeeping staff and the residents have to be prepared.

“What I try to do is make sure our people are aware of their time outside,” DeLoach said.

Inside some of the dorms, housekeeping staff must walk outside to dispose of the trash. He advises staff members to layer up, be aware of their surroundings, watch out for black ice and “don’t be a hero.”

“If it’s too cold, I tell them to leave the trash inside,” he said. “It’ll be OK for a day or two. We’ll put it in the basement.”

The housekeeping staff is considered essential, and works even when the university is closed.

Andy Knapp, one of the university’s building maintenance supervisors, said when the temperature falls below 10 degrees, the campus goes into “global anti-freeze” mode, meaning all the air handlers and heating units are running almost constantly.

“We’re spending a ton of time, all shifts day and night, just checking entryways and doors,” he said. “It’s a lot of dull walking around, checking things.”

Knapp, who is in charge of 20 buildings, said the university buildings rely on “demand limiting,” which he explained as, “Hey, we shut the air handlers off at night because nobody is in the building, and we save energy.”

Knapp said maintenance stopped that completely and the heat has been running 24 hours a day.

“(It’s) a kind of preparation for once we hit 10 degrees,” he said. “Everything goes into this safety mode to keep things from freezing up.”


Marlon Ramirez, a senior biology major and Parking Services employee, bounces around between activities when he’s on the clock. He checks meters, patrols parking lots on campus and works in parking booths.

His work keeps him outside a lot.

When he has to walk around and ticket cars, Ramirez said “it’s brutal, for sure,” even with fleece-lined clothing and thick gloves.

“When weather like this is in the forecast, the only way to get through it is to tough it out,” he said. “Walking around in low temperatures is awful, but until the weather clears up, it’s part of my job.”

Paige Bennett, Aaron McDade, Lexi Marco, Alexandra Sobczak, Carter Adams, Sydney Purtee and Valerie Royzman contributed to this story.