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Kelly Smith, Published August 02 2009

School's executive director known as ‘Mother Teresa of Trollwood’

She’s so busy keeping Trollwood on track that Executive Director Vicki Chepulis even has postponed her own wedding.

As the ringleader of Trollwood Performing Arts School, she’s responsible for everything related to Trollwood – both on and off the stage. It’s a job that keeps her moving countless hours a week, yet even when the program’s annual main-stage musical wraps up today, she won’t rest.

“The level of her own personal sacrifice is over-the-top and largely unrecognized by those who don’t work closely with her,” said Brad Schlossman, the former chairman of Future Builders, Trollwood’s fundraising arm. “It’s really through her leadership that Trollwood is where it is today.”

However, she is more than an administrative leader who just manages the paperwork and programs. Chepulis, who doesn’t have any children, has become like a mother, mentor and teacher to hundreds of students over the years.

“I call her the ‘Mother Teresa of Trollwood,’ ” said program co-founder John Marks, who has known her for 32 years. “She’s very close to the kids. It’s like these Trollwood kids are her children.”

When Chepulis isn’t orchestrating what goes on in front and behind the scenes of Trollwood, she’s supporting students.

“They’re like your own kids,” she said.

“She has sacrificed a lot for the benefit of the kids at Trollwood,” Schlossman said. “She just has the belief that Trollwood programs are making a difference for the kids.”

Ironically, as the leader of this popular performing arts school, Chepulis has never had any theater experience of her own.

She fell into the job after studying interior design in college, which led her to costume design. That’s when she met Marks, who led her to Trollwood.

By 1985, she had taken over after Marks as the executive director. And since then, she’s taken the ever-expanding program “beyond what I could have done,” said Marks, a former Fargo drama teacher.

“She’s so great working with people, details, and is very dedicated,” he said. “A lot of administrators put themselves in their office, but she’s always out.”

In fact, Chepulis seems to know everything about Trollwood – from the students walking down the bustling hallways after dance classes to the fabric of the latest costume or origins of the wood floors.

“People ask who’s the architect, and I say Vicki,” Marks said. “The whole project (moving to south Moorhead) was more her vision than anyone else’s.”

Realizing that vision, though, hasn’t been easy.

Walk into her office and she apologizes for the cluttered desk, adding: “It was clean this morning.”

After a recent meeting with school leaders, she tries unsuccessfully to shut a black leather binder bursting with papers.

Joking about the hours she puts in each week, Chepulis hesitates and asks: “How many hours are there in a week?”

“It’s so nuts,” she said about the school moving to a new site. “This is an exceptional year. We’re learning as we go.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515