Above: Robert Kehrberg, founding dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts, talks with Western alumna Susan Parrot Ward and her husband, Randall Ward, outside a ceramics studio dedicated in their names.
When Susan Parrot Ward and her husband returned to Western recently for the dedication of a ceramics studio in their names, it was only the latest development in a long and rewarding association with Joan Byrd, professor in what is now the department of art and design.
Byrd, who teaches ceramics, not only hired Ward as a work study student during her freshman year, she also inspired the talented younger artist from Kinston to “do her own thing.”
“Here was Joan, as independent as she could be,” Ward said. “When students showed an interest, she ate ’em up. She gave them all the attention they needed. She offered them wonderful opportunities, brought friends to class who were potters we had read about, took us to a national pottery conference. She really made a difference in my life.”
During her second year when times were tough at home, Ward struggled to support herself. She said she was thrilled to receive a scholarship that allowed her to stay in school and earn her bachelor’s degree in art in 1975. After graduation, she went to work in stained-glass design and production; taught as an artist-in-residence in Kinston, teaching students who were physically and developmentally disabled; and helped with the restoration of a beloved old carousel in Raleigh’s Pullen Park. None of that would have been possible without Byrd’s early encouragement and her own positive experiences at Western, she said.
Now married to successful, retired businessman Randall Ward, she is saying "thank you" in a big way. The Wards have given $150,000 for an endowment to support Western’s art program and another $35,000 for a kiln big enough to fire large pieces. In response, the university named a ceramics studio in the Fine and Performing Arts Center in their honor.
During a spring celebration of the gift, Chancellor John Bardo reminded the crowd that when archeologists discover remnants of an ancient society, the thing that people get most excited about are the artifacts related to art.
“Art is a clear reflection of the core values of a society,” Bardo said. “But to create art requires some people in the community not to have to scrape in the dirt, or to fish or hunt. Art requires time for some members of that society to think and to reflect. It is through the artist that we see a community’s values. Through this generous gift from the Wards, we know that future societies will view Western's and our community’s values.”
Steve Warren, chairman of WCU’s board of trustees, who called ceramics “a work of silent poetry,” said the contribution from the Wards is one of the latest examples of “an uncommon alchemy” that exists at WCU. “It’s an alchemy of talent and generosity,” Warren said. “The faculty, staff and students of Western supply the talent. People like Randall and Susan Ward supply the generosity.”
Susan Ward said she encourages other donors to support The Campaign for Western, the university’s ambitious effort to raise $40 million for scholarships, endowments and program support.
“When I think of all the things I’ve gained from my education at Western, it’s more than a diploma. I cannot imagine not helping,” she said. “And gifts of all sizes are important. I’m really big on the ‘drop-in-the-bucket theory.’ Everyone can do something, and it all adds up.”
For more information on the campaign, contact Brett Woods, campus campaign director, at 227-7124 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Web site at campaign.wcu.edu.