University, Joplin area say goodbye to icon

Mary Helen Harutun receives the Lion Hearted Award in 2006. Harutun passed away Feb. 23.

Special To The Chart

Mary Helen Harutun receives the Lion Hearted Award in 2006. Harutun passed away Feb. 23.

An example to her students, and a leader in Joplin’s musical community Mary Helen Harutun, will be remembered for her talent as a teacher and her love for her students.

Harutun passed away on Feb. 23 at the age of 98. Memorial services will be held in Webster auditorium on March 10.

“She is an icon in the Joplin area,” said Vivian León, director of the Missouri Southern International Piano Competition. “She has always been such a presence in our functions and it always brightened my day to see her there, a very special lady.”

Harutun taught piano in Joplin for many years. While her most famous student may be David Osborne, pianist at the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas, she invested in all of them. Students were required to audition before she would take them on, but once they were her students she was dedicated to them.

When Carole Minnix, moved to Joplin she called Missouri Southern to be referred to a piano teacher.

“I said ‘I want the best piano teacher in town’ and they told me call Mary Helen,” Minnix said.

Every Saturday night her family would sit around the Harutun’s piano and listen to student recitals.

“I feel like that she helped us raise them,” Minnix said. “She just had so much influence on them and they learned so much from her, not just about music, but everyday life and what was going on in the world.”

Harutun encouraged her students in all their pursuits. Minnix said there are not many people left like her.

“It wasn’t just my family, she tried to do that for all of her students,” Minnix said. “She just had a way of inspiring them.”

Lois Bellm, met Harutun through the family business, Ernie Williamson Music, and the two became friends. Harutun was specific in her selection of music and unselfish with her friendship.

“Mary Helen was a lady who generously enriched others with her friendship and wonderful talent for living, encouraging others to excellence,” Bellm said. “She was gracious and generous.”

Bellm remembers traveling to the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition with Harutun.

Friends say Harutun loved to travel and to learn and had a distinctive attention to detail.

“There is not a town that she couldn’t tell me where to go eat,” said Jo Ann Vowels.

Many of her students found success through her influence.

“So many times she helped by knowing the right person,” Vowels said.

Lee Elliff-Pound, alumni director met, Harutun through her involvement with the Mission Hills Mansion project, but their talks extended far beyond the mundane. One day Harutun called Pound telling her to lead her daughter to the piano and curve her hands.

“She was giving me a piano lesson over the phone,” Pound said. “She would teach through conversations (with her).”

Beside her lifetime of involvement, Harutun also leaves a legacy to Missouri Southern. She was introduced to the Mission Hills Mansion project and adopted its restoration as her own, donated estate funds for the complete restoration of the historic building.

“My goal is to make sure that this is what she would want,” Pound said. “She was so proud of this project.”

The Mansion strongly resembles the home Harutun lived in and taught from for so long. From the stucco construction and tile roof, down to the marble fireplace like the one she and her students had surrounded during their weekly recitals.

“The second time she came to look around the Mansion,” Pound said. “We were standing there with the door open, it was just a beautiful day, she pointed to this maple tree outside that was changing colors. She pulled out this picture of her house and she said ‘see this tree?’ and the tree was the exact same color. It was absolutely incredible and she pointed and she pointed and she just smiled and nodded.”

At the timeHarutun said her support for the Mansion renovation was the ‘right thing’ and running through the “MH” initials of the project: Mission Hills, Miney Harutun, Mary Helen.

The music room will be named for the Harutuns and Pound says once the Mansion restoration is complete they will invite Southern music students to perform at a yearly Christmas sing in her honor, trying to capture some of the spirit Harutun displayed.

“We should all be so lucky,” Pound said. “To live that long and make an impact on so many people.”

Services for Harutun will be held in Webster Auditorium, March 10 at 6:30 p.m. Friends will read their tributes to her, and former student David Osborne will play piano.