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Seniors Buy Long-Awaited Hovercraft
May 17, 2006

On Thursday, May 11, during reading recess, several Calvin students were in Deptford, New Jersey to pay for and take possession of a hovercraft.

More specifically, the vehicle was a Scat II hovercraft built in 1986 that it took the group three-plus years and many strategies to buy.

“It is surreal to see that which we have collectively daydreamed about for almost four years as an accomplished goal,” says Chad Vickery, a senior mass media major and member of the Hovercraft Collective.

HovercraftThe collective — which now includes Vickery, seniors Samuel de Walle, Daniel Spalink, Dave Riley and Jon Timmer and junior Greg Grutman — was founded in 2002 when four of the members (Vickery, de Walle, Spalink and Riley) were first-year students in the Van Dellen residence hall at Calvin.

The group’s freshman goal was to build a helicopter.

“We thought we would park it on the roof of the dorm and fly it wherever,” says de Walle, a psychology major who will begin working for the Calvin admissions office in June. “Then we realized we would be 400 feet in the air, and none of us are engineers, and the lawnmower engine that we put together with clothespins and paper clips would come apart, and we would surely die.”

“We asked ourselves what would be the next coolest thing to a helicopter, and the answer for us was a hovercraft,” says Vickery.

He then adds a phrase that has become a mantra for the collective: “Because it regards not the surface on which it travels.”

He elaborates: “You can go on land, water, applesauce, lava flows, snow, ice, a beach of eels — electric eels even. It doesn’t matter.”

To raise money for their hovercraft, the group attended every open house at the women’s residence halls, asking for spare change and pop bottles.

“Guys weren’t receptive. They thought we were going to buy pizza,” de Walle says.

By sophomore year, the collective had collected only $300 toward their initial goal of $1,000.

“We started to panic because we had only a couple of more years before we were done with college,” Spalink, a senior biology major, says. “So we stepped things up a bit.”

The group began to dress up for their rounds in the girls dorms. They held a bachelor auction, selling 20 dates with 13 guys, unattached collective members included. The auction netted them $200.

“It was bad for some people’s self esteem, but good for others,” de Walle says.

The collective also hosted hovercraft-themed fund raising parties. It was t-shirts, however, that provided the group with a cash flow to keep the hovercraft dream hovering.

The first shirts, which the guys sold in the girls’ dorms featured an Aardvark image, a reference to The Aardvark, the home in which the five of the collective members live at 859 Ardmore St, SE. Another shirt featured the words “Hovercraft Collective” and an image of a hovercraft.

A Web site devoted to the collective and linked to www.theaardvark.org, charted the group’s financial progress.

By the time they had started selling t-shirts, the collective’s goal had changed.

“We realized when we started making money that there was a lot of response that went with that, and we wanted to respect that too,” says Riley, a senior majoring in history and German.

The group drew up a contract, pledging that if they didn’t buy a hovercraft, all of the money would go to an international charity.

Three weeks ago, somewhat to their collective surprise, the group reached their financial goal. Riley and de Walle handled the purchase of the craft via eBay, outmaneuvering three other bidders.

“We put our last bid in with about five minutes left, and then we hid 'Refresh' for the next five minutes,” Riley says, “and then jumped around the house.”

The collective has hovered only once in the Scat II, on the day they took possession.

"We hovered in a dirty grass field,” Spalink says. “It was amazing.”

“It’s like sitting on air,” Vickery adds.

“It’s not ‘like’ sitting on air. It is sitting on air,” de Walle corrects.

With their dream realized, the collective has only to give each of the people who purchased a t-shirt a ride in the hovercraft, which was a stipulation of purchase.

“We owe 400 rides,” Vickery says. The group is hoping to give the rides at events they'd like to stage this summer.

The collective plans to go on living at the Aardvark for a year after graduation.

“We’ll keep the hovercraft until we move on, and then we’ll sell the hovercraft the way we bought it on eBay and give all the money to charity,” Riley says“It’s like tithing.”

Though the craft was their main focus over the last four years, the collective has a flair for unusual events. They have staged a “grass blowing” at Calvin, persuading students to blow blades of grass in a chorus. They created a jungle in the living room of The Aardvark. They devised ingenious ways to bury Timmer’s car under 10 feet of snow while he was on interim in Florida. And they stole the selfsame car, painted to look like the Jeff Gordon’s race car, and re-painted as a Dale Earnhardt tribute car.

“We need projects to keep going,” Vickery explains.

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson