by Izzy Halloran
[originally posted February 2021]
If you’ve walked through Wilder Bowl in the past month, you have probably noticed the ice rink, ice sculptures, and fire pits. This is Winter Oberland, and it was created as a potential site for students to connect, be outside, and celebrate the winter in Ohio while continuing to take COVID-19 precautions. The project began with an ice rink and ice sculptures, then evolved to include TGIFs involvement. Working with the grounds department, the staff at the Oberlin ‘Sco, Elegant Ice Creations, AVI food service, and The Office of Student Activities’ set out to create an event that students could get excited about.
Still, when I arrived at the first TGIF/Winter Oberland event on February 5th, I found my head buzzing with questions. As the night progressed, dozens of students gathered around the fire and ice sculpture demonstration. As we watched the giant block of ice burn in front of the Mary Church Terrell Library, I wondered to myself—how did this all come together? Who’s idea was this? How’d they set that giant ice sculpture on fire?! What’s the deal with the ice rink? In my search for answers, I was directed toward Tina Zwegat, Director of Student Activities at Oberlin College. Tina kindly agreed to a Zoom meeting to discuss how Winter Oberland came to be, the outdoor activities, and her hopes for future events.
“When the music’s playing and the trees are lit up, you don’t really feel the cold. It reminds you that Oberlin is a pretty place to be!” Tina tells me as she reflects upon the past month.
The ice rink may have been the event's shining star. She was shocked at the amount of reservations for private sessions made by both the students and staff. Among the participants were the football team, the MRC, and even some administration members. She even got a few hockey players to give free skating lessons on Sunday afternoons. Tina encourages all students and faculty to check out the ice rink before it is rolled up on March 14th.
Jane Rissover-Plotke (any pronouns) is an Oberlin ‘Sco attendant who, since the temporary closure of the ‘Sco, has adjusted their job duties to include aiding TGIFs involvement with Winter Oberland. Jane helps set up every Friday, lights the fire pits, checks people in, and keeps an eye out to make sure everyone is safe and happy. She tells me how her most important role as a ‘Sco employee was to make sure the attendees were comfortable, safe, and enjoying themselves. “That carries over to my role as an employee at TGIF. Since the ‘Sco is not open for any events, we’re trying to do outside gatherings so people remember who we are and stay invested. TGIF is a nice organized time where you can see more people safely outside, be a part of something together. The ‘Sco misses everyone and we love seeing half of everyone’s faces. We love it!”
Another noteworthy element of Winter Oberland were the incredible ice sculptures, supplied by Elegant Ice Creations, located in Broadview Heights Ohio. Every Friday a new ice sculpture is brought to Wilder Bowl. So far, they’ve displayed the fire and ice block tower, frosty the snowman, a squirrel, an eagle, a penguin, and a guitar. “Frosty, the penguin, and the guitar were great for selfies!” Tina says. She recalls many great moments while observing students interact. One memory stands out to her, “I saw these two students standing together, then when I looked again they were chatting about ten feet apart and at first I was so confused. Then I noticed they were eating their caramel apples at a distance and I realized how devoted they were to keeping each other safe!” Tina hopes to continue TGIF through the end of the school year, as community is crucial to student wellness in this current environment. Togetherness is as important as ever, since many students are likely struggling with isolation from the rest of the student body due to vital COVID-19 precautions. “I would really encourage people to get outside!” Tina states.
Both TGIF and the Office of Student Activities’ encourage students to get involved and check both the events calendar and the Campus Digest. Some upcoming events to look forward to include Drag Ball and film screenings on the football field in the Spring and Summer. To host a TGIF, student organizations’ can reach out to Jane (email@example.com) or anyone else at the ‘Sco. Meanwhile, if you have suggestions for upcoming programming or events, just shoot Tina an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.