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Employee Profile - November 2008

Sara Wartes (R) with Lanelle Watkins of the Dean's Office

When Sara Wartes, executive assistant for the dean’s office, retires Jan. 30, it’s likely she won’t think of it as the end of her career. Judging by the adventures she’s already taken in life, retirement will be the beginning of yet another journey.

Wartes’ employment at HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry isn’t the first time she has worked at a dental school. From 1979 to 1988, Wartes was employed at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where she was an assistant to Dr. Richard N. Buchanan, who was then associate dean of academic affairs. Seeing how much she enjoyed writing, Buchanan offered Wartes many writing projects.

“Dr. Buchanan changed the way I thought about myself and my abilities,” she says.

Buchanan’s encouragement resonated so much that Wartes decided to pursue her love of writing by going back to college to study journalism. She attended a community college in Waco on what she calls a “scholarship” from her husband, Ron.

After she obtained her associate degree, Wartes and her husband moved to a home on Lake Lyndon B. Johnson in central Texas, where she was editor of three weekly newspapers. As she met and interviewed people for her newspaper articles, once again she reassessed her life.

“When I went back to school, I thought of myself as pretty old. But then we moved to Llano County, which has the highest average age in Texas, and my opinion changed,” Wartes says. She interviewed a woman who flew for the first time at age 95, and the pilot of the small plane was 75. Wartes also interviewed a woman who voted in 1920 after women won suffrage in the United States.

Wartes gained another new perspective when she joined an Israeli folk dance troupe in San Antonio. The troupe danced to scripture sung in Hebrew, and Wartes joined as a form of worship in her Christian faith. The dancers performed at the Institute of Texan Cultures Folklife Festival in San Antonio, but it was their performances at local synagogues she remembers most.

“The congregation would join us and dance, too,” she says. “It taught me a lot about joy.”

After nine years of running community newspapers, Wartes was ready for a change and sought her former boss, Buchanan, for a recommendation letter. Instead Buchanan offered her a job at HSC-BCD, where he was then dean.

“When we moved to Dallas from a small town, I was afraid I’d get lost in a big city, but HSC-BCD is like a small town,” she says. “I’ve made such good friends here.”

A year after Wartes arrived, Buchanan left the college and Dr. James S. Cole became dean in what Wartes calls a “serendipitous” change.

“Dr. Cole has given me more responsibilities and credibility than I’ve ever experienced before,” she says. “I’m really fortunate to work for someone who has helped me grow and use abilities I never knew I had.”

Now Wartes is planning a move to Houston where her daughter, Donna, lives with “a bunch of Irish grandkids.” Her husband of 45 years has already moved into their new home and started a vegetable garden, one of the hobbies she wants to pursue after retirement. She also looks forward to knitting and starting work on a book.

“I always wanted to write a book about Christian meditation,” Wartes says. “I’ve been keeping journals since 1976 of my meditations after reading a particular scripture, so I’d like to compile those into a book.”

As she considers how she’ll spend her time in retirement, she recalls the people she interviewed during her newspaper days and looks to them for inspiration.

“I’m looking forward to following their example and doing really fun stuff,” Wartes says.

What colleagues say about Wartes:

Lanelle Watkins, executive assistant for the dean’s office: I have been privileged to share the Office of the Dean with Sara for almost eight years. She is a very supportive office mate and I think she would agree that we have made a great team. We have shared accomplishments and frustrations, learning from each other along the way. Sara’s contributions go well beyond our office, her opinions and knowledge are sought daily from faculty, staff and students and she very graciously gives of her time. I am very happy for Sara and her retirement and wish her only the best. I just wish it were coming years from now; I will truly miss her.

Juanna Moore, associate dean of finance: Sara is a great asset to the college and to me personally. Her knowledge about faculty issues, from initial appointment through P&T, is so complete. She is always eager to help, never too busy to read something for me or discuss something with me to help me find a solution. Her experience adds such value to the entire college, I believe she may just be irreplaceable. 

Susan Mitchell Jackson, executive director of communications and institutional advancement: Sara is so totally cool and such fun to be around. She maintains her upbeat, unflappable, “keeping-it-real” style – even in the stickiest of situations. I consider her my great journalism consultant and a wise personal adviser. Whether she's providing "mothering" tips or copy edits, she does it with wisdom, sincerity and humor. And besides the folks in my office, who else cares more than Sara about how many spaces precede or follow an ellipsis?

Joyce Hahn, administrative assistant in biomedical sciences: My dearest friend is Sara! I feel that the school will miss her writing talents and the way she is constantly tidying up the place. She absolutely never walks by any piece of garbage on the floor that she doesn’t stop, pick up and throw away – anything for the sake of making Baylor College of Dentistry better. There are numerous remarkable things about Sara, but in the space allotted, I can’t name them all. The school will miss Sara! She has been my dearest friend for eight years, and I will miss her terribly!