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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Serendipity of Titanic Proportions

Descendant of Titanic survivor happens to win free ticket drawing.

2015-10-13
Robb Murray, Mankato Free Press, 10-1-2015

It was just a service club meeting, the kind Paul Hustoles attends regularly to drum up interest in Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Department of Theatre and Dance productions.

But on this day, after speaking to the Mankato Rotary about the upcoming theater season, Hustoles — chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Minnesota State Mankato — got an idea.

On the table in front of him sat a container. Inside that container on little slips of paper were the names of all the Rotary members. On the spot, Hustoles decided he’d do a little ticket giveaway. He’d draw a name at random, he told the gathered rotarians, and give that person two free tickets to “Titanic,” the first major production of the year and a musical with a huge cast.

When he reached his hand in, though, he didn’t just pull a name out.

He pulled out a little drama, too.

Jenna Arkins was the one whose name was called, and when she came up to shake Hustoles’ hand, she dropped this bombshell: Her husband’s great grandmother was a third-class passenger on the actual Titanic and was among the ship’s roughly 700 survivors. About 1,500 people died when the ship struck an ice berg and sank.

Minnesota State Mankato’s production of Titanic begins today (a publicity photo is posted above). When it does, it’s likely few who attend will have as personal a connection as David Arkins.

His great grandmother, Katherine Arkins lived in Ireland when she decided to head for the new world. She was poor, but had plans to meet up in America with her boyfriend and together make a better life for themselves.

She was a third-class passenger on the ship. If you’ve seen the film version with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, she would have been in DiCaprio’s company. (Tangent: DiCaprio’s character, interestingly, is nowhere to be found in the theatrical script — he was an invention of Hollywood and James Cameron.) When the ship struck the ice berg, Arkins has been told, members of the third-class population tried to warn others but their concerns were brushed aside. Eventually, though, all hell broke loose.

Third-class passengers had been locked in their quarters but a few men found a way out. Katherine Arkins joined them and found herself in the cabin of a second-class family. Instinctively, Arkins grabbed one of that family’s children and fled to the lifeboats.

David Arkins said it was probably because she grabbed that child that she was afforded a spot on lifeboat 13.

When help arrived all surviving passengers were picked up by a ship called the Carpathia, and once aboard they were promptly resegregated. That’s when the mother of that child returned to collect her child, uttering not a word to Katherine Arkins.

David Arkins says the family connection to the Titanic isn’t something the family discusses regularly, but ...

“When it’s brought up,” he said, “it gets talked about.”

David and Jenna Arkins said that, while they don’t attend much theater, they’d planned on seeing “Titanic” even before Hustoles drew Jenna’s name. The couple has two young children.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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