Tom Van Esley '75
President, College of Liberal Arts & Education Alumni Council
Some volunteer jobs take on a life of their own, and continue to grow. Take Tom Van Esley ’75, corporate packaging manager for Domino’s Pizza and current president of the College of Liberal Arts & Education Alumni Council. His experience on the council started almost by accident, but it has truly taken off.
“It was in the fall of ‘96, when my eldest son decided to attend University of Detroit Mercy that I came back to campus after 21 years for an orientation,” he recalls.
To say he was impressed is an understatement. “I was blown away by the changes that had taken place since my graduation, both structural and academic,” Van Esley says. “I guess my enthusiasm for what I was seeing and my desire to get involved in Detroit’s resurgence was apparent.” That year, Van Esley was invited to sit on the Alumni Council as a parent representative.
“Almost 11 years and three deans later, I sit on the CLAE Alumni Council with a group of dedicated friends and advocates for the University. I believe I am the second-longest serving president in the western hemisphere, right behind Fidel Castro, and have enjoyed every moment of the experience,” Van Esley says. “I have made many new friends, and re-established ties to many from the past.”
Van Esley lists several aspirations for the council. “Our goal for some time now has been to become the conduit between the current student body and our alumni,” he explains. “In addition, we strive to assist the dean, department heads, and instructors in promoting and participating in their programs.”
Alumni Nights at UDM theater productions are very popular, according to Van Esley. “For the last two years, we have advertised ticket sales for an Alumni Night at each of the four annual productions. Additionally, we have sponsored an ‘Afterglow’ wine and cheese reception after the performances that usually has the second floor at Marygrove College bursting at the seams,” Van Esley says. “Alumni Night is always a full house with audience participation normally spilling over to the other performances. Many student actors and occasionally, a playwright, too, have indicated that our efforts have made a dramatic—no pun intended—difference.”
Another well-attended event is the council’s winter “Career Daze.” “Again, for the last couple years, our group has sponsored a February gathering in the Student Center, where alumni come to talk one-on-one with students in a very informal atmosphere of discussion and pizza,” says Van Esley. In particular, Van Esley listed Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans ’87, and radio personality Cynthia Canty ’75, as some of the local figures who took time to encourage and inspire the CLAE student body. The event, like the sponsorship of UDM’s theater productions, continues to expand yearly.
At some point, the council would also like to develop an alumni speaker’s list to partner graduates with students in the classrooms. “With the consent of the dean, department heads, and staff, along with the development of an adequate list of speakers, we hope to have this in place in the near future.” says Van Esley.
Van Esley’s passion for UDM is tangible, and he says he is driven by a number of factors. “I love this city, the people on this council, and the University,” Van Esley explains. “I was not what you’d call an overachiever while matriculating at this institution. I am not a power broker of industry. I’m hardly political, nor do I possess great wealth. I am, in fact, a pretty ordinary guy, in a nice position in life that just wanted to help out.”
Van Esley strongly recommends his Alumni Council experience to all CLAE alumni. “Just as in some of my other volunteering experience, my involvement in the council has been a reward in itself,” he says. “I would encourage anyone who wants fulfillment in knowing that you’re helping others to ‘come back to school’.”
Ultimately, this is a team effort, and Van Esley has high praise for his council. “We are very informal and don’t use ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’,” he says. “We’re also diverse in many ways, our meetings are often hilarious, and we are dedicated without expending great sums of time. Most of all, we’re bent on doing what we can to promote the College of Liberal Arts & Education and UDM.”