Tribute to Dean Van (1924-2012)
Watch Dean Van's Celebration of Life
Family and friends gathered June 30, 2012 to celebrate Dean Van's life. See videos and photos of the day.
Joanne Van Sant H’70
Thousands of alumni are remembering Joanne Van Sant H’70 as a dedicated professor, trusted counselor, forthright dean and friend. You can share your memories online at our blog or at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Dean Van,” as she was affectionately known, came to Otterbein’s campus in 1948 as an instructor with the women’s physical education department. She became an assistant professor, associate professor and then chairperson of that department. In 1952, she shifted her focus to become dean of women. In 1964, she was named dean of students, and in 1968, was promoted to vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
“She made enormous contributions to student life, to individual students and to University colleagues during an extraordinarily long and productive tenure,” said Tom Kerr, president of Otterbein from 1971-1984. “I especially enjoyed working with her, not only because I respected her leadership and contributions, but also because of her personal warmth and inspirational love of her work. She faced institutional and individual challenges with confidence, compassion and commitment. I shall always cherish my years with Van, a very special person.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Bob Gatti was so impressed by Dean Van’s commitment to students that he came to Otterbein to work with her after meeting her at a convention in Kansas City in 1978. He eventually succeeded her when she retired from Student Affairs. “Many people acknowledged the attributes of Dean Van as caring, compassionate and committed to students. What most people don’t realize is that she was an outstanding administrator who was very creative in implementing strategies with limited resources,” Gatti said.
“Dean Van lived the Otterbein core value: Belief in the worth of all persons, especially the students,” said C. Brent DeVore, president of Otterbein from 1984-2009. “She was a role model, mentor and counselor encouraging all students to follow their hearts and make the world a better place. She was loved and will be missed.”
Generations of students remember Dean Van, and Dean Van remembered them. Upon her retirement from student affairs in 1992, Dean Van was credited with knowing 90 percent of the living alumni, although she estimated the figure to be closer to 85 percent. Her close relationships with her students, alumni and colleagues truly defined the “family” that many people consider Otterbein to be.
In her own words, Dean Van expressed her love of Otterbein. “Otterbein, for me, is and always has been a very unique place, an atmosphere one can’t describe... The cast of characters will change as will facilities and programs. But the heart, soul and spirit will stay strong and live on….”
Elizabeth Minnich Saltzgiver ’99, audience services director in the Department of Theatre and Dance, had the unique opportunity to know Dean Van from the perspective of a music student, alumna and colleague. “I feel so fortunate to count Dean Van as one of my mentors. Dean Van has a way of finding and remembering that one special quality in practically every person she meets. Her stories of Otterbein’s finest, whether humorous or dramatic, are truly inspirational and have taught me, too, to search for that inner-most spark in the individual,” Saltzgiver said.
Dean Van had a special interest in the arts. As a choreographer, she lent her expertise to more than 40 musical theatre and children’s theatre productions in 35 years, and served on the Otterbein Theatre Board. She led several campus groups on London theatre tours and for years, starting in the mid-1950s, was a drummer with a faculty pop band. A creative thinker, Dean Van was also responsible for naming the campus icon, Towers Hall, which she suggested after the administrative offices moved out of the building in the mid-1950s.
After her retirement, Dean Van continued to serve Otterbein as special consultant for institutional advancement for many years. She called on decades of leadership experience and close relationships to help coordinate alumni activities and special events and assist development officers with major gifts, scholarships and sesquicentennial planning.
“Dean Van embodied her ‘Leader’s Creed.’ She led with integrity, by example, and with respect to others,” said Director of Alumni Relations Becky Fickel Smith ’81. “She was honest, unafraid to admit mistakes and took advantage of every opportunity to serve in a leadership position.”
Otterbein named Dean Van an honorary alumna in 1970 and awarded her an Alumni Citation in 1988 for 40 years of service to Otterbein. Her other awards include an Alumni Citation from Denison University in 1996, the A. Monroe Courtright Award from the Rotary Club of Westerville in 2007, and induction with the inaugural class of the Otterbein Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008. Dean Van was also named a Kentucky Colonel, honored by Zonta International and honored with a Volunteer of the Year Award for her work with mental health issues. She received an honorary doctorate degree from Albright University.
Dean Van was involved in a variety of community organizations, including the American Association of University Women; Zonta International; the Westerville Women’s Music Club; Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio, Inc.; American Council on Education; Directions for Youth; Westerville Civic Symphony; and the Friendship Village of Columbus Board of Directors. She was an ordained elder of the Central College Presbyterian Church.
She was born on Dec. 29, 1924, in Morehead, KY, and raised in Mayfield, KY. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Denison University and master’s degree at The Ohio State University. She was preceded in death by her mother, Dorothy Greene Van Sant, and father, Lewis Loving Van Sant. She is survived by her brother, Gus Van Sant Sr., and his wife, Betty; niece, Malinda Van Sant, and nephew, Gus Van Sant.
Dean Van lived through more Otterbein history than just about anyone. Her impact on the growth of women on the Otterbein campus and in athletics is unmatched. A true mentor, her insight, encouragement and guidance impacted countless students’ lives. Her dedication, caring and personal concern were the hallmarks of her four decades at Otterbein.
“Otterbein is deeply rooted in its values, and Dean Van was the embodiment of many of those values,” said President Kathy Krendl. “To be respectful to others, to put service before self, and to boldly lead change when it is right and just, are values that she represented for all of us, whether we had a long-standing relationship with Otterbein or were recently new to the family. She represented the very best that is Otterbein.”
"Good heroes and heroines are not interested in personal awards - they are only interested in reaching the lives of others." - Dean Van