Western’s first lady helps behind the scenes

By Joyce Stevenson

March 5, 2013

Creative. Intelligent. Spirited. Tireless. These are a few words that describe Dr. Laurel Vartabedian, wife of Missouri Western State University President Dr. Robert Vartabedian. [caption id="attachment_16300" align="alignleft" width="150"]submitted photo of Dr. Laurel Vartabedian submitted photo of Dr. Laurel Vartabedian[/caption] Mr. and Mrs. Vartabedian met while they were graduate students at Wichita State University. He had just moved there from California. They married in 1978 and have two grown children and one grandchild. They have collaborated on several published articles. They agree that the purpose of Missouri Western is to enrich the community. “The origin was as a community college and the community should continue with that buy in,” Mrs. Vartabedian said. The Vartabedians have traveled extensively and taught at many universities. Mrs. Vartabedian grew up in a small rural Kansas town. “A small town gives you a deeper respect for differences,” she said. Professionally, Mrs. Vartabedian is most proud of her work as a mentor for the Cherokee Nation and the Black Theatre Ensemble while at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. “I’m very proud of some of my students," Mrs. Vartabedian said. "Being an adviser for the Black Theater Ensemble was very gratifying.” A gifted writer, playwright and educator, Mrs. Vartabedian has been an educator all of her adult life. She has taught 16 different undergraduate courses and four different graduate courses. She currently is teaching a hybrid graduate course at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. "Having been a faculty member for my professional life, I see myself as seeing how crucial faculty is to the university,” she said. Mrs. Vartabedian has been very helpful in fundraising for the Missouri Western campus. She is called the visionary ‘Goldcoat’ of Missouri Western Arts by Karen Graves, St. Joseph community organizer. Vartabedian helped restructure fundraising for the Missouri Western arts and theater department by creating the Missouri Western Arts Society.She and Graves worked together during the 100th Anniversary of the Pony Express Celebration as well as several other fundraisers. “She has great leadership skills so you don’t even realize you’re being led,” Graves said. "What drives her most is her strong passion for students and the arts,” Western's director of development Gary Pickman said. Pickman and Vartabedian have worked together raising funds to offset costs in the art and theater departments. They host the yearly “Lights and Tights” fundraiser that highlights theater department students. “We are really making a lot of progress and it is attributed to Laurel,” Pickman said. Her love of the arts is reflected in two plays she has written. Her first, ‘American Story’ is a musical about the conflict between coal miners and the Rockefellers that came to a head in the Ludlow, CO strike and subsequent massacre of 1914. The play won the “Best of Festival” award at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York in 2000. The second play is ‘Mother Divine’ a musical based on the real-life exploits of an African-American Harlem evangelist named Father Divine. Inspired by a story written by one of Dr. Vartabedian’s students, this play debuted in New York at the 2003 Fringe NYC festival. It has been performed by both regional and community theaters. Vartabedian has collaborated on nearly 20 original written works. Her dissertation received national recognition. Her convention presentations have touched hundreds of people.  She has appeared on numerous radio shows and in countless newspaper and magazine articles. However, Laurel is soft spoken and humble. “She doesn’t do anything for personal recognition,” Pickman said. The Vartabedians have no plans to slow down soon. They both plan to continue to be active in education and Mrs. Vartabedian will continue to teach and write. “It is so fortunate that the university has a first lady who is such a tremendous role model for our students," special assistant to the president Ann Pearce said.