White House

Hail to the Chief’s Volunteer Extraordinaire

White House tour in 1977 leads alumna to presidential role she’s held for more than 35 years

Story by Mike Peters (BA-68)

Estelle Chandler, a 1962 graduate of what was then Colorado State College, not only has 40 years of teaching behind her, she’s also been a volunteer at the White House since Jimmy
Carter was president.

“I was on a tour one day in 1977,” Chandler says from her home in Fairfax, Va., “when the crowd literally pushed me and the first lady into each other face-to-face. The next day, when I went back to visit the White House at a quieter time, Rosalynn Carter said, ‘Why don’t you come to work for us?’”

ChandlerEstelle Chandler (BA-62)

Now retired, Chandler volunteers up to five days a week.

It’s no secret, Chandler acknowledges, the president can’t read all correspondence, so White House volunteers screen the letters, calls and emails, and then relate the most important ones to the White House staff.

“We also send out morning memos because the president wants to know how the people of the country are feeling,” she says. The volunteers are also asked to provide background faces during some speeches and greet visiting dignitaries in the Rose Garden. She has served as hostess in the White House for Christmas visitors.

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wis., Chandler marched and demonstrated in the streets during the civil rights movement. That caused a small problem many years later when Rosalynn Carter asked her to work in the White House. “It took the Secret Service eight months to clear me because they had pictures of me in those demonstrations.”

After finishing high school, she went to a school she’d never heard of in Colorado because she wanted to become a teacher. “I told the administrator at Colorado State College that my grades in high school weren’t very good, but if they’d overlook them, I would make them proud.”

At CSC, she lived in Wiebking and Wilson halls, becoming president of the latter her sophomore year. Her family didn’t have the money to pay for college, so she went to her counselor, asking “for any kind of scholarship.” At the time, she was a Methodist, and the counselor found the Wesleyan Foundation Scholarship for her. “I’m so thankful,” Chandler says. “That scholarship carried me through school.”

After graduating, she began teaching and married Army soldier Charles Chandler. They lived around the world, with Estelle teaching at every post they were assigned. When Charles retired as a colonel, they moved near Washington, D.C.

Estelle went on to earn a master’s degree from Boston University, and a master’s of Divinity from Howard University. She is now a retired teacher and an associate minister at the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church in Fairfax.

She says somewhere in her house is a cardboard box full of letters from various presidents thanking her for her volunteer work. She has photos of her in group shots with the presidents and first ladies, and has met face-to-face with President Clinton and First Lady Carter. Her favorite photo is with Rosalynn Carter. “You know the other signatures might be rubber stamps,” Estelle says. “But not this one. She signed it herself.”

She enjoyed working with the Clinton administration the most, for an odd reason: When the White House chefs prepare a meal, they send the same food over to the volunteers,” Estelle says. “We all know how much President Clinton liked to eat. His food was the best we’ve ever had.”

And now, with a lifetime of memories, Chandler would like to return for her college’s 50-year reunion in Greeley this coming year.

“I’d really like to see how much the school has changed,” she says. NV

—Mike Peters (BA-68) is a retired journalist living in Greeley



Save the dates: Oct. 5-6 for the 50-Year Reunion honoring the class of 1962.

Click here for more information.