From an early age, Susan Laushman’s gift of music was apparent.
Her generosity in sharing her gift with the Pittsburg community has earned her the designation of Woman of Distinction.
Not only has Laushman influenced thousands of fine arts students during her 23-year teaching career, but she also has provided an opportunity for the elders in the community to lift their voices alongside her students via the intergenerational choir.
“Music was introduced to me as a very young girl,” Laushman said. “We lived in Topeka and our neighbor was a piano teacher, a very reputable piano teacher in Topeka.”
Laushman said at the age of four, she and her neighbor’s daughter became playmates, allowing her to spend time basking in the music.
“My mom tells me I would go over there to play and I would hear those piano students coming in and out of the house and I would just gravitate to the piano,” Laushman said. “(The teacher) began to teach her daughter and I together just as something fun. Quickly, she saw potential and pulled my parents aside and said, ‘Your daughter needs to take piano lessons.’”
Within a short few years, Laushman was accompanying her classmates at Maude Bishop Elementary’s choral concerts and periodically helping teach the class.
“The music teacher then asked me one day if I would like to teach the class a song,” Laushman said. “The teacher part of me was already there. I would set up school in my living room and practice being a music teacher. There was nothing else I was planning on doing.”
Laushman took independent studies in piano throughout junior high, had courses waived in high school, allowing her to continue her focus, received her bachelor’s in piano performance from Friends University and her master of piano performance at Pittsburg State University, then began teaching piano.
“I took an adjunct teaching position at Pitt State following all that and did not enjoy it,” she said.
She said then-Pittsburg High School Principal Steve Parsons questioned her choice, asking, “Why aren’t you an educator?”
She took the question to heart and returned to coursework in order to do so.
“While I’m teaching college, I went back for that certification because all my degrees are applied,” Laushman said. “It was a natural transition to use my piano skills and my choral knowledge to teach vocal music.”
Laushman began teaching at Pittsburg High School, transitioned to Carl Junction and later returned to PHS.
“I came back here and started with a very, very small program,” she said. “I think there were 10 girls and three boys. I started building and it’s been the most satisfying experience.”
Along the way, Laushman was asked about the possibility of creating a community chorus.
“My schedule just did not allow it, but I kept it on my mind,” she said.
That germ of an idea grew into the intergenerational choir, in which residents of the community practice alongside students, join them in concerts and form relationships with people of different ages.
“That’s been my outreach to this community,” Laushman said. “The community singers suddenly become a student again. They say, ‘I feel better than I have in so long.’”
Laushman also serves as choir master for the Pittsburg Presbyterian church, where she said she treasures the opportunity to not have to say goodbye to her musicians.
“The neat thing about church choir, as opposed to high school, is that they never grow up and go away,” she said.
She also has received awards including the Kansas Federation of Music Teachers’ “Teacher of the Year, the Kansas Music Teachers’ Association “Outstanding Music Educator of the Year, The USD 250 Globe award, and “Kansas Who’s Who in Church musicians.”