Kindness. Caring. And, Yes, Cookies!
Diane Whitaker’s Legacy of ‘Great Hospitality’
Let’s just get this out of the way first: Diane Whitaker is known for her culinary prowess–specifically, chocolate chip cookies. Even more specifically, 7,000 chocolate chip cookies. If you’ve enrolled at Anderson University, you get your cookies. During finals week, you get your cookies.
But that’s not her legacy. Nor is it her now 20-year tenure as First Lady of Anderson University.
Just ask AU’s 12th president, Dr. Evans Whitaker.
“Around here, I’m known as Diane Whitaker’s husband,” he said.
No one wears as many hats at Anderson University as Mrs. Diane Whitaker.
Arriving 20 years ago alongside her husband, Mrs. Whitaker has been just as transformative—serving as the ultimate ambassador of Anderson University and as a calming presence in the lives of countless students through her acts of hospitality and service.
“She’s the campus mom to all students,” said Anderson University Senior Vice President for Development and Presidential Affairs Wayne Landrith. “She just loves serving our students and the entire campus community.”
“They both share a deep love for the University, for its students, faculty and staff, and work together to promote the university and help it to grow and pros- per. Most importantly, they share a devotion to God and to each other, and through their relationship, they offer a role model to our students and others of the importance and value of a loving marriage that is grounded in Christ.”
– Dr. Bob Hanley
Vice Provost for Academic Advising, Professor of English and Chair of English Department
Diane Whitaker was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but moved with her family to Virginia Beach, Virginia, when she was 10-years old. Christian education is in her blood; she attended Christian elementary, middle and high schools.
It’s in her soul, too. After all, during one chapel program in kindergarten she felt God stir her heart. That afternoon she knelt by her bed with her mother and accepted Jesus into her heart. Her music debut was singing in church one Sunday evening that year; she recalls standing on a chair to reach the microphone. Diane’s first exposure to the professional music world came during her two seasons with the Virginia Opera Association’s children’s chorus.
She went on to perform with a Christian music group based out of California and sang in Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, England, France and Kenya, as well as touring most of the United States singing nightly concerts.
During her college years, Diane supplemented her educational expenses with her participation in the Miss Tennessee program, where she won the talent competition, and by doing studio work. After college, Diane worked as an admissions counselor for her alma mater, Belmont University. Her love of college students and the desire to see them grow and develop both academically and personally led her to move into Residence Life, a job that required her to live on campus in the residence halls.
That decision shaped her life in ways she would never imagine, for it was during this time she met and married Evans Whitaker. In March of 2003, Diane moved to Anderson, South Carolina to support her husband in his presidency of Anderson University. She is active on several community boards including GAMAC, The Salvation Army and the United Way and sings at various churches and denominational events.
“She works so quietly and effectively behind the scenes,” said Don Harper, a member and former chairman of the Anderson University Board of Trust. “There are lots of people that know how to lead from the front, but it is a rare talent and Godly gift to be able to joyfully lead in the role of a follower. Mrs. Whitaker should teach leadership classes on this skill.”
While from Harper’s vantage point, he may recognize Diane Whitaker’s behind-the-scenes work, you can’t go anywhere on campus without seeing her impact. If she has an unofficial title, it would be CHO–Chief Hospitality Officer.
No one knows that better than Anderson University Vice President for Enrollment Management Pam Bryant-Ross. Whitaker works closely with the enrollment management team in recruiting, welcoming and engaging with prospective—and current—students.
“I have the opportunity to see…Mrs. Whitaker’s regular participation in our campus visit events. It is such a privilege to have a…first lady who shows up to meet students and genuinely enjoys doing so.”
“She works so quietly and effectively behind the scenes. There are lots of people that know how to lead from the front, but it is a rare talent and Godly gift to be able to joyfully lead in the role of a follower.
Mrs. Whitaker should teach leadership classes on this skill.”
– Don Harper
Member and former Chair of the Anderson University Board of Trust
“Diane Whitaker has most definitely had an important impact on the campus and student body through her warm hospitality, which I have seen at a wide range of events.
Those occasions include events for new and returning students as they arrive for the fall semester, and life-sustaining cookies provided during exams at the end of the semester,” said Dr. Joyce Wood, professor emeritus of history at Anderson University and the author of The Campus History Series: Anderson University.
“Memories sparkle of her lovely voice and performance in the role of the mother in the 2008 musical presentation of Little Women or the day she brought their delightful little dog to a reading session for the children at the Homeland Park Elementary School here in Anderson. The receptions held in the presidential home for the faculty and staff were one of the great highlights of the holiday celebrations for me,” Dr. Wood said.
Diane Whitaker has been just as much a part of the fabric of Anderson University these last 20 years as her husband.
Ask what he’s meant to the making of the modern AU, and those who witnessed its rebirth in 2002 will mention Diane in the same breath.
They talk about her kind heart. Her beautiful singing voice. Her care for students. Her omnipresence on campus. And her critical role as Dr. Whitaker’s confidant, closest friend and consigliere.
“They both share a deep love for the University, for its students, faculty and staff, and work together to promote the University and help it to grow and prosper,” said Dr. Bob Hanley, Anderson University’s vice provost for academic advising and chair of the Anderson University College of Arts and Sciences’ English Department. Dr. Hanley has taught at AU since 1979 and joined the faculty full-time in 1985.
“Most importantly, they share a devotion to God and to each other, and, through their relationship, they offer a role model to our students and others of the importance and value of a loving marriage that is grounded in Christ,” Dr. Hanley said.
That’s Wayne Landrith’s biggest takeaway from these last 20 years, too. Without that partnership, he believes Anderson University would not have been as successful as its been under their leadership.
“They truly complement each other in their personal and professional lives,” Landrith said. “They both love people and have a deep faith from which they draw their inner strength to fulfill their roles at Anderson University. God certainly knew what he was doing when he put these two gifted individuals together.”