“There were two things in life when I was in college that were definitely not on my radar screen. One of them was preaching and the other was teaching,” Frank Anderson said as I sat down with him and his wife on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.
Starting with Frank’s unexpected call to the ministry, they began sharing stories of how God has worked in their life as faculty members living on campus.
Along with his role as professor, Frank directs the Center for Racial Reconciliation as well as holds the Stephen Olford Chair for expository preaching. Vernetta directs the Center for Academic Success and connects students with academic resources.
While Frank never dreamed of teaching or preaching, Vernetta, a typically reserved introvert, never dreamed of opening her home to students as much as she does now.
“There was a time in my life when that [welcoming students into my home] would have really been a flight zone for me,” Vernetta said. “To welcome that now has really taken me out of my comfort zone and into a new comfort zone.”
A season of living in Philadelphia exposed Frank to Ivy League schools, where he became infatuated with the idea of living and teaching in an academic community. While Frank did not originally plan on teaching, he began pondering serving as a faculty-in-residence while he and Vernetta settled into this calling.
“This is something I had been wanting to do for a long time. Maybe about what – 25 years,” Frank said, turning into his wife, Vernetta.
Frank and Vernetta had discussed living on a college campus but assumed that would not be possible due to their age. Considering many universities choose younger professors to serve as faculty-in-residence, the couple thought their dream would never be anything more than that.
Until Union approached the couple about living on campus.
“When we were selected it was a big surprise,” Frank said.
In the fall of 2019, just months after Frank received a life-saving kidney from a 19-year-old donor who tragically died of an opioid overdose, Frank and Vernetta moved into the Union Quads.
“Right after recovery we’re moving into faculty and residence, and all the sudden I’m around 18- and 19-year-olds,” Frank said.
Surrounded by young adults the same age as the donor who saved his life, Frank dived into not just teaching students but living in community with them.
For the Andersons, community with students going beyond grades, lectures and an occasional friendly wave. Their apartment remains a place for students to learn and grow. Frank and Vernetta have invited students into their lives as they celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or ordinary moments throughout their week.
“At one point, when it was their anniversary, some of the people in our building got together and made him [Frank] a card and signed it and we went down and knocked on his door,” sophomore Intercultural Studies major, Lydia McGinnus said. She bounced between smiling and laughing as she remembered the event. “Some of us baked cookies to give to them as an anniversary present.”
“They were so hospitable and invited us inside…we talked, for probably a good 30 minutes,” McGinnus said.
Lydia joked how living above a professor makes her more conscious of making loud noises, but the Andersons’ impact goes beyond noise control.
Dr. Anderson has been not only a wonderful professor but also a mentor, a spiritual advisor,” McGinnus said. “But also, someone I know I can go to if I need to talk about something.”
Vernetta recalled hosting students in her home for a Residence Life Event that coincided with her birthday. When students learned it was her birthday, they joined in a booming rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“Everyone in the room just started singing happy birthday,” Frank said.
Vernetta’s face lit up remembering what she described as one of her favorite memories of living on campus.
“I got kind of upset because it’s like, I’ve been married to her after all these years and I’ve never been able to do anything in all these years to make her blush in the way that she’s standing there blushing now,” Frank said, laughing.
While the Andersons have no children of their own, they serve as a spiritual mother and father to many. In a season when many students are far from everything they have ever known, Frank and Vernetta step up as educators, encouragers and, more importantly, reflections of Christ.
“I don’t like using the term instinct or instincts when it comes to humanity but if there is such a thing as fatherly instincts, I think I’ve been blessed to get a taste of that,” Frank said.
If you have the privilege of speaking with the Andersons, you are sure to notice three things: their love for God, their love for each other and their love for students. Frank and Vernetta not only include students in their lives but delight in it.
Through engaging students in the ordinary, their impact stretches beyond this life.
No matter how ordinary, the Andersons always maintain an eternal perspective. Whether it is sharing a meal or celebrating a birthday, Frank and Vernetta not only engage students at academics but in the everyday moments of life.
Looking back on their impact as faculty-in-residence, the ordinary moments really are not so ordinary after all.
“I feel like my efforts have some eternal value,” Frank said. “I feel like I’ve always felt that way in ministry but not quite like I do now.”
Photo by Laila Al-Hagal