The smell of freshly flipped pancakes wafts through the air in front of Roush Hall. Leftover glitter is strewn about the streets leading to Memorial Stadium. A sea of people swathed in cardinal and tan are laughing and embracing, making it impossible to tell a friend from a stranger.
Looking around, it’s easy to get caught up in the energy of an Otterbein Homecoming: an annual feat that draws hundreds of alumni, community members and students together to experience once again the brick-lined streets and the echoing bells of the Otterbein University Love Song ringing from Towers Hall. However, what’s not as easy to visualize are the countless hours of careful planning it takes to make this weekendlong celebration happen each year.
“I’ll consider myself an expert at planning these things after this one’s over,” say Ben Schwarz, associate director for alumni relations. Though new to his role, this is the fifth consecutive Homecoming he has helped plan and his first as part of the four-person team that makes up the alumni relations department: the powerhouse behind every Otterbein Homecoming.
For Schwarz, planning for this year’s Homecoming started the day after last year’s Homecoming ended, beginning with booking physical locations on campus.
“We plan Homecoming dates five years in advance because we have to make sure there are no big reservations or renovations going on. We also have to make sure we’re going to have enough tables and chairs and that the food trucks are going to be available, because Lord knows there’s a food truck festival going on somewhere,” said Schwarz, chuckling.
With each month, the alumni relations department’s duties range anywhere from the logistical, like mailing the more than 800 save-the-dates to community members, alumni and parents, to the nitty gritty details of making sure there are enough trash cans on campus during the event and that the cafeteria is serving gluten-free food options.
It may seem like too much for one department to handle, which is why the alumni relations team is not alone. Armed with a committee of representatives from every department on campus, including student affairs, athletics and the Otterbein Police Department, the committee helps plan the physical events of Homecoming weekend, like the petting zoo hosted by the Center for Community Engagement and the Center for Student Involvement’s annual bonfire.
The university also has had more than 100 years of experience, including its fair share of Homecoming horror stories, to learn from.
“One year they shot off streamers from a [parade] float,” said Schwarz. “The streamers hit the power lines all the way up, and there was a big burst of electricity that sounded like a huge bug zapper. No one was hurt, but there’s no longer any shooting streamers through a cannon at Homecoming.”
The Alumni Relations Department’s duties don’t end when Homecoming begins, either. When asked if he got to sit down and relax during the weekend’s events, Schwarz was incredulous.
“What? I’m rolling around on a golf cart, with a coffee in one hand and a Schneider’s doughnut in the other,” he said enthusiastically.
With more than 2,000 attendees expected at this year’s Homecoming, the event is geared up to be as big and bold as ever, with a few small surprises sprinkled in the mix. Whatever this year brings, planning for an Otterbein Homecoming remains the same each year: it takes a village, or rather, a university.