Sandella’s trio loves TU students

by Erica Clark
Campus Life Editor

Left to right, Cortez Coleman, "Rosie" Higgins and Victor McClary smile for the camera much like they smile for their customers each night in the cafe.

It’s all too familiar in Sandella’s Café: the smell of the food, the sound of the beeping oven and the triad of smiling faces behind the counter that never fail to greet every student who passes by.

“We’re like a cord of three strands,” said Sandella’s employee Victor McClary. “Like it says in the Bible.”

McClary described the relationship with his two co-workers, Rosalin “Rosie” Higgins and Cortez Coleman, as being like Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

The three, who are neighbors, met before they worked together at Sandella’s.

“I would see Rosie sitting on her porch as I went to work,” said McClary.

Soon, Higgins and Coleman — who began working together in the fall of 2009 at what was then the 1780 Café — were joined by McClary in the fall of 2010.

“That was the ‘cheese bread’ era,” said Coleman, referring to one of the café’s most popular dishes of the time.

“Everybody loved it,” said Higgins. “People still ask for it.”

Coleman, who worked for a cleaning service before coming to Transylvania University, said “the difference is day and night.” While he described the cleaning service as the “same ol’ same ol’,” he loves working with the students at Transy because it’s exciting.

“I love the interactions with you guys. It’s personal, it’s kinda neat,” said Coleman.

“It’s fun, and there’s always something new,” said Higgins.

“I really enjoy the work I do here. It’s like an adventure ’cause I never know what y’all are going to say,” said McClary. “It’s just a blessing to be able to smile and have fun when you’re at work.”

McClary worked previously at a similar Division III school where he learned that he wanted to work with the youth of America. At Transy he loves the “camaraderie” and the “interaction with the young men and women.”

“Times are changing,” McClary said. “You want to be around those who are changing with it. Y’all are the future of tomorrow. And it’s a privilege just to be around y’all and accepted by y’all.”

Coleman remembers what it was like being on his own from his parents. He hopes to make the students feel comfortable.

“It’s scary and you really have to rely on what your parents taught you,” said Coleman.

“We try to be personal with you guys,” said McClary. “We know it’s a service to you guys but we care about each and every one of you. We’ll chastise you when you’re wrong and we’ll be there when you need a shoulder to cry on.”

Higgins doesn’t look forward to parting with students she has served for so long.

“We’ll probably cry when you graduate,” said Higgins.

“We always do,” said McClary.

Their relationship extends beyond their interactions at work.

“We’ll go home on days off and talk about things that happen,” said Higgins.

“We share a special relationship,” said McClary. “They’ve been a light in my life. I was sort of a reclusive person. Not that I wasn’t friendly, but to break the shell of what I was surrounded with it took two loving people. We enjoy one another. It makes performing the job much easier when you know what to expect from one another.”

Higgins and Coleman each have children of their own. Higgins has two daughters, and Coleman has two daughters and one son.

“All of them are grown, which makes me a grandpa,” said Coleman.

Some time ago McClary experienced a tragedy when his child passed away.

“It’s been two years but it still seems like yesterday,” said McClary. “The love that I give to y’all is like what I can’t give to my own child.”

The love that the three co-workers have for the students certainly isn’t one-way. The students feel blessed to have such a warmhearted bunch welcoming them in the café each night.

“Living in Thomson, it is so nice to have staff members in the building that are personable and caring,” said junior Sarah Tipton. “They always have a little piece of wisdom, a kind word or a funny joke to share.”

“They have a tenacious and compassionate personality,” said sophomore Kayarash Karimian. “It allows students to bear the late-night stress caused by academic demands.”

For most, interactions with the three are not easy to forget.

“We want to be the kind of team you can tell your grandchildren about,” Coleman said.

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