Students, co-workers remember Kean Ocean employee as ‘humble, kind’ person
By Rose Marie Kitchen l Published Oct. 21, 2016
Michelle White-Yates may have primarily worked at Kean Ocean, but news of her death has affected students and faculty miles away on the Union campus as well.
White-Yates died on Aug. 12 at the age of 31. Those close to the family told The Tower that the family did not want to disclose her cause of death.
A memorial service was held on the Union campus for Whites-Yates on Sept. 10 in front of Downs Hall. Busses from Kean Ocean also arrived with attendees for the service.
“The day was very Michelle-like,” said Abby Gallego, a mental health counseling graduate student at Kean University. “It wasn’t about grieving; it was about celebrating the memories we had with her and who she was.”
Three of White-Yates high school friends were there to speak and share a slideshow of pictures to honor her during the service. Amanda Flisler, Kean Alumna class of 2010 and sister of Nu Sigma Tau, also spoke; White-Yates was formerly president of the Nu Sigma Tau sorority during her class year.
“The part that was distinctly Michelle was that she could give everything and never expected anything in return,” said Susan Figueroa, a friend of White-Yates as well as Managing Assistant Director of Community Service and Civic Engagement for the Center for Leadership and Service (CLS). “She was sensitive to the needs of others and sought to be an agent of support and kindness to all that crossed her path. She never sought repayment or notoriety.”
White-Yates was the Managing Assistant Director of the Office of Campus Life at Kean Ocean. As well as an alumna of Kean University where she received a bachelor of science, in business, in 2006 and a master of social work in 2010.
“She may be gone but in no way shape or form is she forgotten,” said Gallego.
The university sent an email to all students, staff and faculty on Sept. 6 in memorial of White-Yates.
“She leaves a legacy of involvement, community service and volunteerism through her work at Kean Ocean, throughout her years as a Kean student and through her service as a Peace Corps volunteer/ management advisor for The ClearWater Initiative in Uganda, working to provide clean water for people in need,” the email read.
The impact she has left is pure proof as obituaries for White-Yates stretches across three states; NJ, FL and VA. Guest book signatures, pictures and memories have filled each page echoing the mourning of White-Yates, that is happening not only at Kean University.
“Michelle was a wonderful person. In many ways she represented the best of what anyone can hope to offer. She was simplistic, humorous, humble, kind, appreciative of the small things and generous of substance and of spirit. She aimed to do her best in all things,” said Figueroa.
The CLS office, in Kean Union, invited White-Yates to lead a team during last year’s’ Alternative Spring Break, a week long volunteer opportunity for students to participate in during the week of spring break.
That was one of White-Yates many chances to bridge the gap from Kean Ocean to Kean Union. One student recalled White-Yates making everyone on the trip laugh when she turned up a Taylor Swift song.
“I met Michelle during the 2015 Alternative Spring Break trip, where we did Hurricane Sandy relief on the Jersey Shore with JerseyCares,” said Megan Collante, senior English education major. “She was very outgoing and easy to get along with … Michelle was just the type of person that would make everyone laugh, and it would bring everyone together.”
A GoFundMe donation page has been created in White-Yates memory with a goal of 10,000 dollars. Donations will go towards seed money for a scholarship in her name and as a donation to Peace Corps The ClearWater Initiative, which White-Yates traveled to Uganda to advise annual and quarterly planning and budgeting.
A YouTube video of Michelle White-Yates just dancing and living life in the moment: