Women of Distinction: Abby Fern

Jonathan Riley
Abby Fern

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Abby Fern grew up in Mound City in Linn County, graduating from Jayhawk-Linn High School before moving to Pittsburg to earn her bachelor’s degree in history from Pittsburg State University, where she now works as chief marketing and communications officer.

Originally, Fern planned on going to law school, but that plan changed after she met her husband Mark, who is a lawyer in private practice in Pittsburg, and got married shortly after graduating. Once she learned more about the type of work Mark did, she decided it wasn’t for her. Instead, she applied for and was awarded an assistantship in PSU’s history department, where she worked on and nearly completed a master’s degree.

Years later, Fern is now going back to school to finish her master’s in history this spring. At this point, though, she has no plans on making a career change.

“I love marketing,” she says. “I think it’s what I was meant to do.”

Although Fern started her education at PSU, works there today, and is now close to completing the graduate degree she started there but postponed finishing, Fern has not spent her whole marketing career at the university.

In the late 1990s, Fern took a job with a youth mentoring program at the Education Service Center at Greenbush, where she worked for a year.

“I realized how much I liked communication,” Fern says, “and even though I have a history degree, I feel like history set me up for that, because I had to write a lot, I had to convince people of things, I had to provide context for my opinions and context for why people should be persuaded in a certain way, and so even though I don’t have a traditional pathway to a marketing career I feel like my history degree set me up well for it.”

In 2000, Fern moved to a public relations position at Pitsco Education, and within three years was working on Pitsco’s joint venture with Lego Education. She continued to work for Lego Education until June of 2016.

While she was working at Lego Education, Fern also had two sons, Webb and Beck, who are now teenagers attending Pittsburg High School and Pittsburg Community Middle School, respectively. Both boys play sports in school and, along with their dad, also enjoy other outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.

“So they spend a lot of time doing those sorts of things,” Fern says. “But I like to read, I like to cook, I like spending time at home, and also just spending time in Pittsburg. I really like this community.”

Fern likes Pittsburg so much that when Lego Education offered her what some might have viewed as an opportunity to move to one of the major metropolitan areas on the East Coast, she turned them down.

“They moved the office to Boston, and I opted not to follow my position to Boston,” Fern says. “I opted to stay in Pittsburg.”

Over the next couple of years, Fern did a variety of work, including with Pitsco and LimeLight Marketing, as well as consulting work for organizations including United Way, a New jersey-based nonprofit called Destination Imagination — and PSU, where she was hired as chief marketing and communications officer in October of 2018.

When she heard she’d been selected as a 2021 Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce Woman of Distinction, Fern says she was surprised.

“It’s amazing,” she says. “I didn’t expect it, I didn’t know I was nominated. I think it’s a great thing to be in such good company. There’s some really good winners this year, some really good women on the calendar. There are every year, but this year’s really good and it’s just an honor to be part of it.”

Working at PSU, Fern says, she understands why the Chamber had to change the format of its Women of Distinction recognitions this year, and had to cancel its Women in Business breakfast event.

“I think one thing that’s great is the Chamber can produce a calendar of 12 women every year that are truly distinctive, and it’s amazing that a community of our size continues to produce so many people doing so many great things,” Fern says. “I feel very humbled to be considered one of those people, but all the other people really impress me. I just think it’s great that every year this can happen.”