The Battalion. (College Station, Tex.) 1893-current, June 25, 1987, Image 9

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    Portrait of a
story by Ann Dejoie
photos by Melissa Hohlt
Although most people think of Reveille as the
“first lady” of Texas A&M, Mrs. Frank E.
Vandiver is the real lady in the “White House. ”
Her role as president’s wife comes with both
frills and responsibility. But even though she
works in her husband’s presidential shadow,
Mrs. Vandiver retains a certain dignity and style
all her own.
Being the wife of the president is a
full-time job.
But Renee Vandiver, wife of Texas
A&M President Frank E. Vandiver,
still finds time to cook, shop, clean the
house and keep up with her own
Born in New Iberia (about 138
miles west of New Orleans), Mrs.
Vandiver grew up on a sugar
plantation with her two sisters — one
a year older and one a year younger
than her.
“I grew up on a plantation that was
quite large and had its own store, mill
and church, ” she said. “It was like a
huge playground. We had restrictions,
but it (the ‘40s) was a good time to
grow up. ”
While Dr. Vandiver was in Austin
getting his undergraduate degree,
Mrs. Vandiver, then Renee Aubry,
studied fine arts at Newcomb College
of Tulane University in New Orleans.
“Being in the art school at
Newcomb was very hard because we
also did work with the architect
school, ” Mrs. Vandiver said, adding
that she spent a lot of time in the park
across the street from the college
working on drawings.
It was in college that she first met
Dr. Vandiver. He went to Tulane to
get his masters in history. While
working on his degree, he taught
history classes.
“A large group of the young
women I lived with were in history
school,’’Mrs. Vandiver said, “and
that’s how I met him (Dr. Vandiver).”
Throughout the following years
they remained close friends and got
married in 1980.
Mrs. Vandiver said she remembers
the wedding vividly, especially since
one of her sons was the best man.
As in the typical family home, the
Vandiver’s phone rings constantly, the
Phonebook cover is scribbled on, Dr.
Vandiver’s daughter is invading his
home office with her stuff, and the
driveway is full of cars.
Mrs. Vandiver, like the typical
mother and wife, does her best to
keep track of everybody’s schedule
and still remain sane. And she has a
lot of positive things to say about her
husband and children.
But unlike the typical family, the
Vandivers don’t have two kids, two
cars, and two dogs.
They do have two dogs, Miss
Scarlet and Fergus, but it stops there.
Both previously married, Dr. and
Mrs. Vandiver have 11 children
between them — ranging from 16 to
34 years of age. They also have seven
grandchildren and one grandchild on
the way. Mrs. Vandiver said this has
allowed her to keep up with the trends
each year.
“No one can fool me, ” she said.
“I’ve been through it all. You can pull
just about anything and I can relate. ”
Three of Mrs. Vandiver’s children
currently attend A&M, and one
graduated in 1981.
“I let them go off a year to see if
they’d rather be away,” she said.
Mrs. Vandiver added that after a
year away, the children looked into
the programs at A&M, found them to
be more advanced and transferred
back to College Station.
“We gave them the choice of not
staying at home, ” she said, adding
that all three children at A&M live on
campus and have a different last name
from hers, which has helped them
since they don’t want people to know
who they are.
Quite often, the kids go home for
mom’s cooking or a quiet place to
study. But, Mrs. Vandiver said they
know better than to bring their
laundry home for her to do.
“If they bring their laundry home, ”
she said, “they usually come at night
and do it themselves while they do
homework. ”
The children aren’t the only family
members that live on-campus. The
president and his wife also call A&M’s
campus home. Their “White House”
is located on Circle Drive across from
the bonfire field.
Mrs. Vandiver said she enjoys living
on-campus, and with so many
children, she has easily adapted to
being around the students. It’s also
convenient because Dr. Vandiver is
only five minutes walking distance
from work.
Mrs. Vandiver’s role as wife of the
president keeps her busy, but she
doesn’t let it interfere with her roles as
mother and housekeeper.
She does all the cooking, and she
and Dr. Vandiver try to eat dinner
together with the children who are
“I do like to cook, ” Mrs. Vandiver
said, “so that’s no problem. The nice
thing about being the cook is that you
have dinner when you want. ”
A cleaning service helps her with
housekeeping during the week.
“It’s an easy house to keep clean,”
Mrs. Vandiver said. “It’s very
functional. ”
She describes her and Dr.
Vandiver’s house as deceiving from
the outside. It has what she calls “a big
front and a small back. ”
“When you walk in the front door,”
Mrs. Vandiver said, “you have a
feeling of space, which is nice. But
“No one can fool me, IVe been through
it all. You can pull just about anything
and I can relate.”
— Mrs. Frank E. Vandiver