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Kelly Smith, Published October 03 2009

‘Privilege of a lifetime’

The end of an era for the Fargo-Moorhead arts community is a beginning of one for Vicki Chepulis.

In an emotional and somewhat sudden move, the longtime arts leader announced Friday she’s leaving Trollwood Performing Arts School and the area after 31 years.

“It has been a privilege of a lifetime,” she said. “There’s been some grieving. This is like a child. It’s letting go.”

Choking up, she made the announcement public Friday after giving notice to Fargo Public Schools on Wednesday that she would retire as Trollwood’s executive director for personal reasons.

“I just want to really be clear that my reasons for leaving are because of good things and that I am really committed to helping this organization move forward in whatever way I’m invited to do so in the future,” she said.

Her last day at Trollwood is Feb. 28. Soon after, she’ll move two hours southeast of Fargo to a 60-acre Wadena, Minn., home to live with “the love of my life,” artist Kent Scheer.

She said she thought about leaving for “quite some time,” but made the decision in “the last week or so” while on vacation.

“This has been like a calling in my life,” she said. “It’s not a job, it’s a calling. I’m very blessed to have had that. And sometimes though, it has usurped other things in my personal life.”

Chepulis started at Trollwood in 1978 and moved on to the position of executive director in 1985.

On Friday, she thanked past leaders, Fargo School Superintendent Rick Buresh, financial backers, the community and Trollwood alumni.

“These are all, to me, my kids. I love them, and I want to express my thanks,” she said, adding about her staff: “I get a lot of credit, (but) they’re the ones that do it.”

Trollwood Administration Director Kathy Anderson, who has known and worked with Chepulis for two decades, said it was an emotional announcement.

“It really hit me in a personal way,” Anderson said. “Everyone adores Vicki.”

Asked if politics in the organization played a role, Chepulis said, “it caused me to think about priorities in life,” but it didn’t motivate her to leave. “In fact, that would be a reason for me to stay.”

She doesn’t have another job lined up, she said. “We’re at a point of a lot of transition.”

Steve Wurzer was elected Monday as the new president of Future Builders, Trollwood’s fundraising arm, after Kent Wild’s three-year term ended.

“I’d have to say, hearing Vicki’s notice was a surprise,” Wild said. “However, at the same time, I couldn’t be happier that she has found something that she can move on toward but also still stay in touch with Trollwood. I do know Trollwood has been a big part of her soul.”

Wurzer has been involved with Future Builders for about nine years.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to help this organization meet the challenges of helping more kids see their dreams realized at Trollwood,” Wurzer said, adding about Trollwood’s move to south Moorhead: “Now, we have the opportunity to really get things done.”

The School District hopes to hire Chepulis’ replacement by February, Buresh said, and will put together a search committee that could include administrators, arts leaders, Trollwood staff, alumni and Future Builders members.

Chepulis said she could help with the transition.

“I am completely committed to working with the teams of people that will assemble to work out this transition to new leadership for this organization,” she said. “And (I) have full confidence that all the partners are going to work together to make sure the vision that we have had for Trollwood in this new site … will become a reality.”

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