Sams living the good Chet Life


Younger graduates like John Sams IV ’10 have an affectionate nickname for their alma mater: Chet.

For Sams, “Chet Life” means rigorous academics, mentor professors and coaches, and a value system of integrity, hard work and giving back. Above all, Chet Life is people. “You talk about family and friendship. You get that at Manchester.”

A business graduate from Benton Harbor, Mich., who earned a master’s degree in education, Sams is giving back to Manchester as a member of the Alumni Board. He’s also giving back to his community as the unit director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor Teen Center, cultivating the potential in young people, building their self-esteem and preparing them to be responsible citizens.

“I love what I do,” says Sams, who left a good job as a mortgage loan counselor in Indianapolis to help kids in his hometown.

Sams never looked far for his own role models. His father, John Sams III, and grandfather, John Sams II, left a legacy mentoring and coaching youth in Benton Harbor.  When Sams IV arrived at Manchester, he found more role models in professors Tim Ogden ’87 and Joe Messer, and football coaches Nate Jensen and Brad Higginson. “The coaches were amazing,” says Sams, a four-year student-athlete. “They became like second fathers to me.”

Higginson, in particular, “believed in me and he taught me to believe in myself,” says Sams. “I take that confidence with me everywhere I go,” he adds, especially in his work with teens. “I look at their potential and try to cultivate their potential.”

On the academic side, a senior seminar class with Messer taught Sams a lot about life. A course called Operations Management with Ogden was Sams’ “toughest class,” but one he uses every day to run the Boys and Girls Club. Messer and Ogden “pour so much into you,” Sams says. “Now it’s my chance to go out and pour into other people.”

Though Manchester is much more diverse now, there were only 16 African-American students when Sams arrived in 2006. Many white students were from rural communities and their exposure to African-Americans was mostly from television. So Sams joined Black Student Union in part to help dispel myths perpetuated on TV. “We went out of our way to let people know that we are good people,” says Sams, who organized food drives and clothing drives as BSU president for three years. “We wanted to be a real force for good on campus.”

Learning from diversity is one of the best parts of Chet Life, says Sams. “The world is so much bigger than what you see on TV.” Because of Manchester, “I have an open mind to things I would not have had otherwise.”

Nearly a decade after graduation, Sams keeps in touch with some of his “football brothers” – including Dante Dinkins ’13 and Jermiah Jones ’10, who Sams calls “his best friend in the whole world.”

In fact, everyone from Manchester with whom Sams stays connected has a positive outlook and a passion for serving others, regardless of their professions. “Their whole job is giving back to the world, making the world a better place.”

Perhaps none of them does that better than Sams, who reaches 100-plus teenagers every day. He encourages them to graduate high school, go to college, cultivate their talents and find something that they love to do. “You want to put people in a position to be successful. That’s what Manchester did for me.”

Now Sams is so passionate about his role at the Boys and Girls Club it almost feels “like it’s not a job,” he adds. “It’s almost selfish, what I get for doing for other people.”

Therein lies one more Chet Life lesson. “You get more out of life for being a good person than just chasing money,” says Sams. “Do for others and you’ll be blessed in the end.”

By Melinda Lantz ’81