End of an era: Art department secretary reflects on time at job, looks forward to the next phase


Joan Kearney with one of her dogs. 

In 25 years, she’s seen many changes within the art department. Countless students have come and gone. Many of who graduated on to bigger and better things. 

It started for Joan Kearney when she was hired as the secretary of the art department. 

But this time will soon come to an end, as she retires at the end of the spring semester. 

Although she was born in Wichita, Kansas, Kearney has lived in Neosho most of her life. 

She graduated from Neosho High School and Crowder College, later coming to Missouri Southern as a programming major. 

“I would have gone into [programming], but at the time I got my degree, a programmer just sat in a little cubicle and wrote code, and I wanted to work with the machines,” she said. 

Before Kearney was hired at the art department, she had a number of jobs in Joplin. 

She applied at Missouri Southern at the encouragement of a friend. She joined the art department in August 1993. Since then, the department has undergone several changes, and she’s been here for them all.

Since she’s worked here, the Spiva Center for the Arts was relocated from campus to downtown, the art department gained new classrooms and office space, there were curriculum changes, and the beginning of Summer in Sweden, one of the oldest study abroad trips offered at Southern.

Having worked here for 25 years, she has also worked with several other faculty members. 

“I have been through a complete round of faculty,” she said. 

In addition to working with her fifth department head, she has been through three university presidents. 

She was excited to see current University President Dr. Alan Marble take the position, as they were classmates in high school and at Crowder. They were even cast mates in Crowder’s theatre program.

She said one of her favorite things about being part of theatre was the chance to play other people. 

Something that Kearney did find through her job at Southern was her husband. 

“When I started working here, [Bryan Kearney] was a student and his father had just sold his business and was looking for something to do,” she said. “He got a job here as a custodian and unbeknownst to me and [Bryan] kept telling his dad ‘you need to come over and meet our secretary. I think you’d like her.’”

Together Kearney and her husband, Tom, have three children and two grandchildren. The couple live with their two dogs, a Brittany named Brooks, and a beagle named Lexi. 

As retirement approaches, Kearney said she is ready for the next phase in life. She and her husband plan to travel.

Although in the past, they have taken annual trips in the winter to a warmer location, they haven’t in a couple of years. Now they will find it helpful being able to take off whenever they want to. 

Kearney said her favorite thing about working in the art department has been the students. 

From introducing her to social media to teaching her the tactics they learn in the drawing classes, Kearney said the students keep her young. 

“I didn’t realize that they taught you how to ‘see’, where everything is squares and circles,” Kearney said. “I had no idea until [students] explained that to me.” 

Through the years, she’s found it wonderful getting to know some students and watching them graduate. 

“The very smart students get to know me, and they use me,” she said. “They come and ask questions about how things work. Those are the really good students. They always graduate well and go on to have great careers.”

From the students and the faculty, those in the art department will miss Kearney.

“I will definitely miss Joan,” said Kyle McKenzie, assistant professor. “She has been here longer than anyone else in the art department, and I think we will definitely miss her help with practical matters.  

“Mostly, I will miss talking to her every day.  She has always been kind to me and has become someone that I visit multiple times per day to chat about classes, family, or whatever.”

Student worker Dorothy Gonzales has enjoyed spending time with Kearney, describing her as a kind soul who is always ready to help students in need.

 “It will be weird to not see her every day after this semester especially when she’s the main person I go to when I have a question,” Gonzales said. 

To Art Department Head Frank Pishkur, working in the art department without Kearney is baffling.

“Joan has been the face of this department for so long,” said Pishkur.“She has seen us at our worse and at our absolute best. She has been our link, our common ground, and base of operations for so long.

“None of us can even conceive of what the art department without her will look like.”