Two Generations Share A Love For Saint Leo’s “Culture of Kindness”

Barrie Van Devender ’80 and his daughter Reggie, Class of 2019Barrie Van Devender ’80 and his daughter Reggie, Class of 2019

Two very different paths brought father and daughter to the alma mater they share.

Arizona-based marketing executive and former Air Force Sergeant Barrie Van Devender ’80 arrived at Saint Leo’s Langley Education Center in the late 1970s as a young airman, taking courses while in Virginia serving his country at Langley Air Force Base. His daughter, Reggie, Class of 2019, took the more traditional approach, with a residential campus room, a full course load, and a sought-after spot on the women’s volleyball team.

That their respective paths led to Saint Leo says less about the shifting sands of circumstance than the core values that father and daughter hold dear.

“Saint Leo does so many things right that it’s easy to get lost in the details, but ultimately it comes down to the values,” says Barrie. “There is a culture here, and it is a culture of kindness.

Three years ago, when Reggie was a sophomore and promising student-athlete at Seton Catholic Preparatory in Chandler, AZ, Barrie’s vision for his daughter’s future didn’t necessarily include his own alma mater. He was proud of Saint Leo’s academic strength and solid reputation within the military community but only distantly aware of the residential University Campus, rapid growth, and highly regarded Division II athletics program.Then an invitation to serve on the Dean’s Executive Advisory Council for Saint Leo’s Donald R. Tapia School of Business brought him to the historic Florida campus and reignited his enthusiasm for the university he already loved.

I was struck by the number of students I saw wearing Saint Leo shirts, hats, and other gear,” Barrie remembers. “I’ve been a marketing manager for a long time, and it’s very hard to engineer that kind of pride and loyalty. It reflects something deeper: a sense of community, of belonging.”

It was not long after her father’s first visit that Reggie made her own trip to Saint Leo’s University Campus and found herself drawn to that same “culture of kindness.” She eventually received offers from multiple universities, including Division I programs, but she knew Saint Leo was home.

“Once you meet the staff and the coaches and the facilities crew for the first time, and you get hugs, you see that everybody subscribes to these basic values,” she says. “It’s a community that grows up around that. That is one of the most appealing parts of Saint Leo.

Reggie Van Dervender celebrating with fellow members of the volleyball team

Reggie Van Devender, Class of 2019, with her Saint Leo volleyball teammates

”She says Saint Leo volleyball coach, Sam Cibrone, makes it clear that those values are not just symbolic. They govern every aspect of a student’s life, including athletics. “As competitive as we are in volleyball, Coach is adamant about demonstrating the values. A violation that goes unnoticed, that goes without penalty, is still a violation. We have to hold ourselves accountable.”

Those are the kinds of lessons that Barrie hopes more students will have a chance to hear. To help make that possible, he and his wife, Samantha, have made their stewardship of Saint Leo a family priority. In addition to Barrie’s participation on the Dean’s Executive Advisory Council, he and Samantha also began a scholarship fund for student-athletes and provide regular annual support for the school’s athletics program.

“I want every student to have access to a university like Saint Leo. I want every student-athlete to have a coach like Sam Cibrone. Here is a coach who is 100 percent committed to having a successful team, but he’ll tell you that success requires integrity, and humility is the better part of winning,” Barrie says. “Those are the values I shared with Saint Leo when I graduated 36 years ago. They are the values that Reggie and I share with Saint Leo today. They are the values we both want to share with the future.”

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