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Several team up for toys, tots





Santa's elves at Fort Hays State University just were finishing up this year's 24th annual toy project, but the students at the school's Institute of Applied Technology already are hard at work coming up with next year's toy.

"We've gotten to where we're now a year in advance," said Dr. Duane Renfrow of his production systems class. "We're right now producing the toy they designed last year."

On Saturday morning in the wood shop at Davis Hall, approximately 50 volunteers were gathered to assemble this year's hand-made, wooden toy, a four-wheeled tractor.

"It's an assembly line," Renfrow said. "The parts start off as a rough part that's cut, and then it has any holes drilled, then it's brought over to the sanding area. When it's sanded, it goes to these different assembly stations, where different parts are nailed on. Then it's back over to the finishing table."

Renfrow's production systems class learns how to produce a product.

"In that class, I basically run it like a business," he said. "It is a freshman-level class, so I pick people with their interest or skills.

"We have three teams: We have a research-and-design team; we have a production-research team; and then we just have production people. They applied for those jobs in the class. We brainstorm the toy ideas. ... This pretty much takes all semester. You're only seeing the tip of the iceberg today, the assembly part."

Kevin Castor, Weldona, Colo., is a sophomore in Renfrow's class. He was going from station to station Saturday, making sure everything was running smoothly.

"So far, I think it's going well," he said. "I think everyone's enjoying  themselves. That's one of the keys, make sure people enjoy themselves while they're working."

Approximately 245 toys were made Saturday, with approximately 160 of them earmarked for children and distributed through a local nonprofit organization, Teaming Up For Tots. The others are either given out to sponsors or are available with a donation.

"In a perfect world, we would have a society where we wouldn't have any children that would need a toy like this," Renfrow said. "While there's still a need, we hope to continue doing this."

The department is continuing the project that started under Fred Ruda, who was the chairman of the technology studies department. Ruda was killed in a car accident last year, and Saturday's event was the second since his death.

"I was real good friends with Fred and Sherill Ruda," said volunteer Gary Wentling, Hays. "Fred is the one who got me started doing this. We just carried this on, especially since Fred's gone. We think of him while we're doing this."

Glenn Ginther, Hays, also made sure to lend a hand Saturday. Ginther is a former associated professor who taught in the technology studies department for 30 years before his retirement in 1996. He helped Ruda start the toy event many years ago.

"Each year, we come up with something different," he said of the toys. "I've got them all in my basement."

Christine Cochran, Hays, was helping for the first time with her 8-year-old son, Alex. Her husband, Chris, and their daughter Avery, 11, have attended in the past, and this year they were all there together.

"It's actually pretty fun," she said during a break of affixing wheels to the tractors with her son.

There's something that can be learned from donating your time, Christine Cochran said.

"I think my kids need to learn what it is about Christmas," she said. "It's not just getting stuff. It's helping others and doing nice stuff for other people."