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Jody Vance, Welcoming Face at the SAO, to Retire This Week

By Lili Martinez

For the first time in five years, Jody Vance’s warm smile will no longer welcome visitors to the Student Activities Office (SAO).

Vance, the administrative assistant at the SAO, will retire this week. She is leaving Kenyon to focus on a business she has run for several years that grows organic food and provides nutritional supplements for healthy living.

“I’m really, really thankful that I can change my lifestyle now,” Vance said. “My interest is wellness, not that I am too fundamental, but I’m truly one that wants people to start taking responsibility for their own health. … I hope I can continue with my side business and growing my food organically.”

Her coworkers will miss her friendly energy. “Jody has been the core of this office for forever, because she’s been here the longest out of anyone,” said Assistant Director for Student Activities Anne Vleck, who has worked with Vance since 2009. “She has such amazing relationships with all the students that come in here. … We’re such a student-centered office in general, and we have a positive image because of what Jody does for students.”

Vance began her career at Kenyon at the Office of Multicultural Affairs and moved to the SAO to take up her current position as administrative assistant. Vance spoke fondly of her time in Multicultural Affairs. “I started here when they first opened [the Snowden Multicultural Center],” she said. “From there I probably had 16 supervisors, and when Dean Omahan left [in 1996] they decided to split my position between Student Activities and Multicultural Affairs. So they gave me the chance to choose which one I wanted, and I chose Student Affairs because I wanted to keep working with students of color and other students.”

One of Vance’s most memorable experiences at Multicultural Affairs was when she worked with students to bring a child soldier to campus in 2007. “We had two interns that worked with Multicultural Affairs and Student Activities and both of them at different points had worked with child soldiers. … So the young lady that I worked with [connected] with her nonprofit and … found a child soldier that had lost his parents in childhood and had been drafted into the army,” she said.

After working out the logistics, the students brought Mohamed Sidibay from Sierra Leone to Kenyon. He visited Mount Vernon Nazarene University and they solicited donations for him, but they ran into a problem as they escorted him back to the airport.

“[Sidibay] said ‘Well, I can’t go back. If I do, they will kill me.’ And it was because he was more or less a poster child, and he was representing his country in these posters that [the students] had put out about him, and that made enemies in his country because they felt it misrepresented their country and … so they really would kill him,” she said.

Because his visa required it, Sidibay had to return to Sierra Leone. In New York City, however, he escaped the care of his sponsor and managed to reconnect with the nonprofits that sponsored his initial visit. “They made arrangements for him to become adopted, he went into an American school, and his goal was to get a higher education and go back and be a lawyer in Sierra Leone,” Vance said. “So in the highlights of my life here at Kenyon, opportunities like that would not have existed for me if not for our interns.”

Vance’s career at the SAO, where she has been working for five years, has been “evolving,” she said. “[The Student Activities positions] are just stepping stone positions, and I’ve kind of been the one who’s always been here as the directors move on to other jobs where they can build their resumes. Hopefully it’ll be stabilized a little bit. … If Christina [Mastrangelo] and Annie [Vleck] stay, they will be establishing themselves and making it all work. What they’re setting up can evolve more easily.”

Vleck, too, emphasized Jody’s constant presence in Student Activities. “I’m going to miss her personally because she’s always been there for me, and I think a lot of students are going to miss her too because she was just such an advocate for all students at Kenyon,” Vleck said. “She’s just always friendly and asks you about your day and really goes to bat for students when they have problems. She goes the extra mile. … It’s been really great working with her and I’ll miss her.”

Vance hopes to encourage students to focus on “positive communication,” something she thinks is disappearing in the Internet age. “As I depart, I am hearing from many that I’ve grown attached to over the years,” she said. “As I leave the Kenyon bubble, it is my hope that their lives are filled with the positive respect and communication for those experiences that they come up against … because so much is changing so rapidly. … The positive piece of that is that we really have to strive to be selfless and be more positive in our communication.”

Though she will miss the bubble, Vance feels it’s the right moment to move on from Kenyon. “Why now? It’s time,” she said.

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