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Longtime campus counselor and mentor leaves legacy of love at Liberty

Dane and Joan Emerick met up with family in Florida, spending time on the beach and at six theme parks including Disney World, over Thanksgiving before he retired on Dec. 31, 2020.

While one of Dane Emerick’s duties over the years was to discipline students who had violated school policies, his primary objective was to disciple them and lead them closer to Christ.

Emerick, 75, retired on Dec. 31 after 44 years at Liberty University. He said Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, told him he had “the gift of mercy.”

“My heart is in men’s ministry,” he said. “I want to be remembered as a living instrument that God worked through in the lives of men, to invest in their lives and to see them grow into godly husbands and godly fathers, to step up to the plate and make a difference as they go into the mission field.”

Mark Hine, Liberty’s Vice President for Student Affairs who once worked for Emerick as a student, said Emerick helped set the standard of conduct for students to strive for and lived it out as an example for his colleagues to follow.

“His love and passion for the Lord and Liberty’s students is unparalleled,” Hine said. “No matter how big and bad their problems were, he was convinced that God could change their lives and was a part of that through his Biblical Worldview counseling.”

Emerick served as an associate dean of men and campus pastor at Liberty for the past 44 years. (Photo by Andrew Snyder)

Emerick began his ministry as a youth pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in his hometown of Altoona, Pa. He would serve as a dean of men at Liberty for close to 30 years before and after serving as campus pastor in the early 2000s. Most recently, he served as a counselor and associate director in Liberty’s Office of Community Life.

“He works through all of these students’ problems, and he does it in such a loving and accepting manner,” said Mark Hyde, associate dean of students. “Dane deserves congratulations for all of the work that he has done. He is certainly going to receive treasures in heaven.”

Emerick has had a major influence on millions of lives, addressing students in Convocation and at summer youth camps and marriage conferences over the years. But much of his long-term impact has been made on the thousands of students he counseled and ministered individually and in small group sessions.

He has been what Hine calls a “spiritual sparkplug.”

“He is a great teacher and preacher of the Word,” Hine said. “His speaking ability is off the charts. He could preach to large audiences and crowds and loved doing youth camps in the summertime, and he also loved doing the one-on-one with the students. He was the whole package.”

Forgiveness, redemption, and restoration became themes in his life’s work.

“The key to a young student’s life is to restore him,” said Emerick, who noted that many of those students he dismissed for disciplinary reasons over the years eventually returned to school and went on to become doctors, lawyers, pastors, and teachers, even current professors at Liberty. “Those who came back tell me that when they were let go from Liberty, they were never dismissed with so much love as what came from my office, because we stayed in touch. You don’t walk away from people.”

Dane Emerick’s sermons would always point students back to Scripture for inspiration taken directly from the Word of God. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

Emerick rededicated his life to Christ in 1965 while serving in the Navy as a commissaryman (culinary specialist) aboard the U.S.S. DuPont. In the midst of the Vietnam conflict, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he also manned one of the ship’s five-inch guns when it was under aerial attack and fired torpedoes in battles at sea.

Zealous to share his faith after giving his life to the Lord, Emerick’s captain had to bail him out of jail when he was arrested and punched around for handing out Gospel tracts in Turkey.

After going to Washington (D.C.) Bible College on a G.I. Bill, Emerick began his career at Liberty in 1976 as a cook at the former Stewart Arms Hotel (now the Virginian) in downtown Lynchburg, Liberty’s primary dormitory at the time. He also was a resident director there and he and his wife, Joan, lived among the students before he moved to the new main campus to serve as a supervisor the next year and an associate dean of men in 1979.

Over the years at Liberty, he has taken dozens of teams of students on spring and summer mission trips and has spoken and shared the Gospel in 27 countries, including India, Thailand, Slovakia, Germany, South America, and Mexico, where he worked with Apache Indians.

However, his on-campus ministry at Liberty has met the greatest need, transforming the hearts and minds of students who would go on to change the world as Champions for Christ.

Emerick (bottom right) traveled overseas with hundreds of students over the years to share the Gospel in 27 countries.

Emerick and his wife have four biological children and 11 grandchildren, and he considers Liberty students his extended family.

“When someone asks me how many children I have, I tell them I have three daughters and thousands of sons,” he said.

Emerick plans to continue to mentor men through Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg and Oasis Church in nearby Madison Heights, Va., and his calendar is booked through February with speaking engagements at marriage conferences throughout the Southeast.

“He loves to minister and loves to pastor, and I don’t see him ever leaving that calling,” Hine said. “Right until the end, I think you will find Dane investing in people, pastoring, speaking. He is one of those unsung heroes for Liberty University. For what he has brought to our students over the years, only eternity will reveal the return on the investment he made.”