Union says ‘goodbye’ to VanCleave family

Emma, Tim and Carly VanCleave spend time together as a family. | Photo by Cari Phillips

By Cari Phillips

Union University will soon say goodbye to a family who has been a stronghold in Residence Life for nearly seven years.

Ema VanCleave, residence director of female quads, and her husband, Tim VanCleave, have opened up their home and lives to hundreds of students throughout their time at Union and now feel it is their time to move on to a new season of life.

With a new baby on the way and their daughter Carly growing more active, they said they realized the need for a new environment to raise their budding family.

Living life on a college campus is busy and full of activities often running late into the night. This lifestyle is bearable for students who are acclimated to the survival routines they have learned to develop. However, it takes dedication and commitment to intentionally place a growing family in the middle of the college environment, which is exactly what the VanCleaves have done.

“Ema views being a residence director as a ministry,” said Jessica Lambert, junior elementary education major. “She has encouraged me in so many situations, both in my personal life and school work. She relates so well to situations that are going on, but she also knows that each trial we go through is part of God’s
plan for us.”

Students, faculty and staff have all benefited from VanCleave’s service in Residence Life, particularly through the days following the 2008 tornado, said Kimberly Thornbury, vice president for Student Services and dean of students.

“It’s difficult for me to separate Residence Life from Ema VanCleave, because she has been such a part of shaping how we do community together here at Union,” Thornbury said. “I could list a hundred ways Union has benefited from her leadership, but I will mention the fantastic Residence Life traditions she brought to campus, her strong leadership through 2008 and her care for her girls even when she lost her home (in the tornado), and the way Ema, Tim and Carly have shown such transparency living in the Bowld Student Commons.”

Another staff member who has had an opportunity to get to know VanCleave in more recent years is Kristin Wells, assistant residence director. Wells said VanCleave has spent countless hours pouring herself into the lives of students over the last seven years.

“She is a joy to be around, and I am so thankful the Lord brought her to us,” Thornbury said.

VanCleave’s service has encouraged students to realize their full potential through both hard times, like the tornado, and good times of change and progress.

“Sometimes she is a shoulder to cry on, and other times she is the push for change that nobody else has the guts to give,” Lambert said. “With Ema’s encouragement, I feel myself growing and changing in my relationship with Christ, becoming the woman He wants me to be.”

Briana Rauls, senior athletic training major and resident advisor, has spent many days in the VanCleave’s home, which has become a safe and comfortable place for her to rest when things are chaotic. Rauls said VanCleave also spent time teaching her valuable things she needed to learn.

“I had at least 60 people tell me they were going to teach me how to drive,” Rauls said. “Ema is the first person who said she was going to teach me how to drive and actually did it.”

Rauls and many others testify that the VanCleave’s presence on this campus and in the Bowld Commons will surely be missed. Many students can account to encouragement she has brought to this campus.

“Through comments from students and simply seeing her interactions among them, it is easy to see that she has deeply impacted this campus and is loved by many,” Wells said. “We are so grateful for her time and service here and can truly say that Union will miss her.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.