It wasn't unusual for people to find Mira Pajes Merriman formidable or even intimidating at first. An art history professor at Wichita State University for 30 years, she was a woman whose life and outlook were shaped by formidable circumstances: growing up in Poland at the outbreak of World War II, for instance, and fleeing with her family to the Soviet Union and, eventually, to the United States. She readily leveled criticism at blind ignorance and showed her contempt for acts of meanness, but at heart she was as soft, caring and as fun-loving as any person could be.
WSU students and dozens of colleagues and friends remember Dr. Merriman as one who could mesmerize in lecture halls and intimate gatherings alike with her description of Renaissance paintings and sculpture. She had a rare and special talent that made her students want to know more. To miss a class was to miss an event. This was her legacy to the students who flocked to her classes: the love of the story of Western civilization as told through great art.
Born in Poland in 1932, she fled with her family in 1939 to the Soviet Union, and two years later made the long journey to the United States, where her family settled in New York City. Those experiences were instrumental in shaping the person she became. But it was the seven years she lived abroad as a young woman that helped shape her love of art and culture. Her appreciation for art blossomed while a student at Columbia University, and it was at Columbia that Merriman met her husband, Jim. In 1966 they moved to Wichita, where she had been offered a position in the art history department and her husband in the English department. Dr. Merriman spent the next 30 years enlightening and entertaining students with her dramatic story-telling abilities and unmatched flair.
Outside the classroom, she had a love of nature and the outdoors and spent much time at her ranch in the Flint Hills. Lynda Beck, a friend, says Dr. Merriman had a style and panache that made being in the country an extraordinary experience. She rarely slowed down, even in later years. In her late 60s and 70s, Dr. Merriman traveled to Thailand, Turkey and Spain and — in a constant quest to discover the richness of life — tried everything from Flamenco dancing to snorkeling to belly dancing.