Fashioning a Future for Students in the US
and Orphans in Africa
Virginia, nicknamed Jinx by her parents, is the middle child of five born to Romanian immigrants. Her father came to this country at 21, her mother was 10. Virginia and her siblings were raised, as Virginia says, "very much like so many immigrants. Very disciplined."
Virginia was deeply influenced by her parents. Her father died in 1978, her mother in 1989. "Two of the greatest people ever. I used to think my dad was too strict, but he really wasn't." She admired the fact that her dad wanted the lives of his children to be better than anything he ever had, but still did not spoil them. He wanted them to know the value of hard work and respect what they were given.
He would tell them "You are going to High School, you should know better!" He became an apprentice to his uncle, a furrier, at age 6. Part of his apprenticeship included killing and tanning sheep at that very young age.
Her Grandmother lived with them until she died at 92. She never learned to speak English, so they always spoke Romanian at home. So for Virginia, even though she was born in this country, English was her second language. When she went to school, she struggled and since her parents were born in a different country and with a different language, they were not able to help much with Virginia's education.
She looks at her own grandchildren today and sees how much time their parents spend helping them. "That didn't happen with us. We went to school and were expected to get good grades. And God forbid if you failed anything!"
Virginia Marti Veith in 2008
Although she is happy that her children and grandchildren have an easier time, she is also concerned about this generation missing an important part in the process of becoming upstanding, intelligent adults.
"That's what makes the difference of our generation. The critical thinking. We had to figure things out. No answers were supplied to us. It was up to us to determine the answer."
"Even today in a lot of our own students we have to drill things into them, too much pampering and too much help. They are missing the critical thinking that is so important."
Although her parents were not able to help much in the education aspect of her life, they still played a monumental role in her life. She says her children still ask her how she put up with the discipline and rules.
On Sundays, Virginia's whole family would go to church; three times. Her father became a Christian when he was in Europe and was impressed by the people he worked for who were Christians. He was very devout. Her mother was also a Christian and together her parents raised them to know the difference between right and wrong.
Her father was a furrier, the work he learned from his uncle in Romania. He worked with some of the top furriers in the city. But, as Virginia notes, "Europeans always have to have land." The first thing he did when he could afford it, was to buy a farm in Grafton, Ohio.
During the thirties they worked on a farm and he commuted to the city every day. It was a working farm so Virginia and her siblings milked cows and cleaned barns and did the gardening.
The thirties, of course, was the Depression. Virginia says "We all worked, but nobody ever thought about getting paid. I remember telling Dad one time that everybody else was getting an allowance and asking him why we never get an allowance. He said 'I'm going to give you an allowance when you can pay me for your room and board here and all the food I've given you.'"
Virginia always worked with her dad in furs; she would tear apart furs with a razor blade when her father was remaking a fur coat. She learned at an early age how to work in the fur business, as well as the farm.
Her father was a great influence in her life. They always worked together as a family, which she says, "You don't see too much today." He mother worked in the fur business, too, mainly doing the fur finishing. "I had an Aunt Sophie who also worked with us. She was just like another mother, always there." The family was very close knit.
The first school Virginia attended was Belden. Her advanced education started at Cleveland College in downtown Cleveland, which is now closed. Then she attended a dressmaking school, also closed.
She took art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art before heading off to New York to Fur Design School. She also studied art at "Parsons, The New School for Design".
While in New York, she met a classmate from Montreal who had an uncle who worked for Christian Dior in Paris. The classmate was planning a trip to Paris and Virginia decided she was going to go too.
As it turned out, he had a terrible accident and was never able to go, but Virginia went anyway and stayed almost three years. She spent her time there working and learning. It was in Paris that she learned Haute Couture, the method her college now teaches.
"I don't really know if any other school teaches Haute Couture, in America. If they do, I've never heard of them."
To explain Haute Couture, Virginia compares it to studying music. She explains that there are two types of musical education. In one, the classical method, you learn all about the notes, the scales and everything else. In the more modern method you learn chords.
Haute Couture is the classical method of design. Haute couture provides intensive fitting and requires a great knowledge of construction. The term itself is often misused to represent high fashion. Haute Couture is always made specifically for one person.
She demands that her students be able to take anything they see and be able to sketch it, make a pattern and produce a garment - regardless of the type of design.
That may be one reason her student leave the college and obtain fantastic jobs and attain great success. She often receives follow-ups from her graduates telling her how grateful they are to know the process from the ground up. They also report that so often the supervisors they are working for do not have that basic knowledge that her graduates have. "It is because they [the supervisors] are learning the ready-to-wear method vs. haute couture."
Virginia worked for eight years with her father and then had a chance to go out on her own in the Bridal business. "That's what I'm saying. With that method you can do anything. I've done bridal, plus sizes, children's. Even a little bit of men's, but I don't really like that - there's no challenge."
Virginia says the challenge is in women's clothing, with all of the different sizes and body types and fashion trends. "With this method, if you want to do a junior line - you can. If you want to do a missy line - you can. If you want to do women's or plus - you can. It's all in learning to do all those blocks - the basics and learning how to get your fit models and that type of thing."
Virginia Marti at Go Red for Women event with daughters-in-law Martha and Debbie Marti
In 1963, she went into the bridal business opening Virginia Marti Bridal. The business was tremendously successful and she quickly had to hire people to keep up. She realized that the people she was hiring needed training to do the job to the standard she required.
"I thought, you know what, I spent all these years and all this money to learn what I know, and here I'm hiring people and paying them and training them at the same time. I thought, wait a minute, this is not right."
That is when she first started thinking about starting a school. She was familiar with Bill Hixson who had a florist shop, but also had a school training potential employees, as well as others, in the skills needed to be a top notch florist. He was involved in the floral part of Bridal Shows and needed highly skilled personal for his work. She thought this same concept would easily apply to her business.
Even though her business was successful, she was struggling because she could not find the quality of worker she needed, so the college seemed to be the perfect solution. In 1966 the Virginia Marti College of Art and Design was opened.
The best of the best students were hired for her shop. The first year there were only 8 or 10 students. "I was teaching the way I was taught and it took me a little while to realize I had to change my way of teaching. Europeans are so demanding…It's one of the big things [I remember] when I was studying in France. We all thought 'They're going to ship us home in a box. Will we ever get through this?"
She remembers one time in particular when she came to class with an unfinished project. Her teacher asked if she has slept the night before. Virginia answered 'yes, of course.' The teacher told her if she had time to sleep, there was no excuse for not having the project completed.
She quickly found this strict disciplinarian "no-excuse" method did not work with the American students. "They cry a lot, especially near the end." She herself cried, wondering why she ever chose such a hard industry.
Although the industry has a reputation of being all glamour, Virginia stresses that that is the "biggest myth. The back room is still the back room and its hard work and its deadline and if you don't meet the deadline, you're out of business."
Even with the stress and the pressure, Virginia loves the business and describes it as one of the most exciting businesses one can get into. "It is constantly changing" and a designer has to be able to keep up with all of the changes.
The one mistake Virginia says she made in her business was going from wholesale to retail. After having seen the markup when she was in wholesale, she thought she should have part of all of that. "I suppose it was greed."
She feels there is no harder retail business than bridal. She finds that perfectly nice girls change their personalities as soon as they become brides. Additionally, after you have sold a gown to the bride and she is happy with the selection, you must now sell it again to her mother, her friends and even the father wants to see what he buying. She says you must sell the gown three or four times and if any one of them is not happy with it, the process starts all over. Of course, they also handle dresses for the mother of the bride and bridal party.
There are times when a bride would ask for a completely inappropriate or unflattering dress. It was Virginia's rule to tell them, even if it meant losing a sale. She would find a nice way to explain how a different dress would be better for them, but they were not always open to her evaluations.
Virginia Marti (Grandma Jinki) with
Virginia started to wean herself of this and began designing ready-to-wear because, with the exception of a few alterations, the dress would be sold and that was that. Haute couture could result in multiple fittings.
"We would take their measurements and of course never let them see their measurements. They would go on these crash diets and the next time they came in the measurements would all be off and we'd have to start all over."
When Virginia started in the bridal business, the average haute couture dress was about $200. She says in any business, when you start out you should keep the prices as low as reasonable to bring in business. As you get busier, you can raise your prices. Today wedding dresses can cost thousands of dollars.
Virginia herself likes to wear "the classics" - clothes that stand the test of time. Although she wears designer clothes like Yves St. Laurent, Chanel and Sonia Rykel she says being in the business makes it different because "I pay half of nothing for the clothes."
Virginia got married for the first time in 1956. "At one time I closed my retail store, I had so many things going. I had eight children - 6 boys and two girls - and my husband wanted out." He left her and the children for another woman. Today Virginia has 27 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Virginia Marti Veith clan in 2006
She was a single mother of eight children for twenty-one years. Her children are as follows: Sabrina, (works at the college in finance), Adrian, (eldest son, now deceased), Vincent (expert in foreign cars), Glenn (construction worker), Andre (works as Night Class Administrator at college.), Dennis (works at college as Virginia's assistant), Jennifer (works at college in financial aid) and, Quinn, (head of admissions at college.)
She says they all worked somewhere else first and are all very good at their jobs. "When they saw me working so hard they said they never wanted to be like me."
The time came that the college needed to re-evaluate its insurance. She asked her secretary, who also went to Virginia's church, if she knew of anyone in the business. She suggested she try Herb Veith. Virginia knew of him, although they had not actually met.
He was an insurance broker for Nationwide. She knew him to be an honest person. Her son Dennis interviewed him. She remembers coming in and hearing him tell Dennis things they did not need in their coverage and pointing out ways they could save money. She thought he was either the worst salesman ever or the most honest man.
They used to have a fabric store across the street and Herb would stop in periodically. She always wondered about him since he would be out riding his bicycle at noon and she would be hard at work at the store. She knew him six years before they were married in 1993.
Virginia Marti Veith and husband Herb Veith
at the 40th anniversary celebration of
the Virginia Marti College of Art and Design
Herb had gone on a mission trip to Romania and was planning another. She mentioned to him that she was Romanian and could speak the language. She went on the mission with him. She remembers the Romanian people laughing because her Romanian was old-style, but of course, she learned it from her grandmother and mother and that was the way they talked.
"Herb is the kind of husband every woman dreams of having. Honest to gosh, he is the nicest guy… I have never been spoiled in my life. My dad didn't spoil me. Certainly my first husband didn't spoil me. This guy spoils me. He sends me cards. He gets up and walks my dog [Sammy, a Bichon Frise] that I wanted and he didn't."
Virginia Marti with her Bichon Frise dog Sammy
She says she doesn't even have anything broken or in disrepair in her house because he handles it instantly. He went to the college and fixed everything there too.
Herb devotes most of his time to the Mission for the Fatherless a non-profit organization started by Virginia and Herb. (See separate article on the Mission). The Mission is in rural Kenya, among the poorest places on earth.
Virginia and Herb started the Mission after making a number of visits to the country. They had been invited by a pastor to whom they had donated a small amount. Virginia acknowledges that making a donation can be an easy way to help out, but you never know how far reaching it will be.
In her case, her donation turned into a calling. After they went to Africa with the pastor, Virginia and her husband were hooked. There was no ignoring the poverty and hunger they saw and experienced first hand. They could now put faces to the children and could not turn their backs on them.
She describes it as "incredible" to see the street kids. "They enslave those little boys. They pick them off the street and sell them as slaves."
She says most, if not all, of the young ones that were there when she went the first time are dead now. When Herb and Virginia go into the shops, mothers offer to give them their children in what may be the ultimate sacrifice. They know that with Virginia there is some hope for them, whereas on the streets of Kenya they will probably die.
Virginia said that originally she really only wanted to go on a Safari, it was Herb who worked in missions. He was the one who wanted to see the pastor in Kenya. The first trip they took she was counting the days til they would leave. They went for three weeks "and then we went on a Safari and I was happy. We ate good food and saw all of the animals."
Now, they still go on safaris, and she says it's still great, but there's nothing like being with those kids who call them "Mom and Dad."
There are two pastors running their orphanages. "We had two others that were thieves. These are good people now." She says her husband trusted the first two, but having been through the trauma of being embezzled and dealing with unscrupulous people, she saw danger signs. She could not put her finger on it, but she knew there was something amiss and she turned out to be right.
She has the utmost faith and trust in the people running the orphanages now. Both pastors are married and their spouses are just as active. In Kenya, after 8th grade, students go away to boarding school, coming home only in August, December and April. The students' days start at 5:30 in the morning.
There are fifty-eight orphans between the two homes, but they also feed thirteen widows in Kakamega. Once construction is finished they will be able to house eighty, but construction stopped because of all of the turmoil.
Some of the orphans being cared for by
the Mission to the Fatherless
Virginia tells the story of Dixon, two and a half years old "the cutest little imp" and his five year old brother. Their parents abandoned them in the market place. "The five year old has the weight of the world on his back taking care of that little guy. I saw him go to get a sweater to put on his little brother when he was cold. It's remarkable. And he is only five."
She says that all of the children know about God; part of their curriculum includes Bible study. She wonders, "How many of our kids, who are blessed to be born in a good home, ever think about God or thank Him for their blessings." She says that these children, who supposedly have nothing, are grateful to God for every little thing they have.
They are thankful to God for the Mission to the Fatherless. "They have three meals a day, they have their beds, and they're clean. They have a good doctor, they have good medical care, and they are tutored when they are weak in some subject matter so they can pass their exams."
They usually go to Kenya twice a year and stay for two months. The one orphanage is in Oyugis about 30 miles from Tanzania. The other is in Kakamega which is about 45 miles from of Uganda. They are around Lake Victoria, about 80 miles apart.
Although they receive financial support from donors, most of the money comes from Herb and Virginia. "Thank God I have my business and when we run short, Herb cashes some kind of bond or something."
Virginia owned a fabric store right next to the college. She only dealt with high end designer fabrics. She donated the store to the mission, so that all of its profits now go to Mission to the Fatherless. She remembers when she was a designer there was always tons of remnants left after a project. She wrote to different designers and asked them to donate their remnants.
The response has been tremendous, although in some cases they ask that Virginia pay for the shipping, which can get quite expensive in itself. These fabrics are from designers such as Gucci, Chanel and Versace to name a few.
"At some point we don't need any more money. And I'll tell you something. Herb and I live well, but we don't spend a lot of money foolishly. Herb always says "we have to be good stewards of the money that the Lord has given us" and it is so true."
Virginia is also developing her own clothing line, which she will be selling on-line. Again, all of her profits will be donated to the children of the Mission.
Virginia Marti Veith and son Quinn at a gala
at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Virginia is a firm believer in teaching children about God early in life. When parents tell her they are not sure they should force their children to go to church, she is amazed "You make them go to school. The most important thing in their life is their relationship with God and then everything else falls into place."
She fears that "American kids are cheated by abundance - they don't have any wants. They don't even think about God blessing us - they take it all for granted."
Even during the 21 years that she raised her children without a husband or the father of her children she never lost her faith in God. She remembers praying to God asking Him why this happened to her and what she did wrong. But she realized that was not the case at all. "God knows us and has a plan for us."
Sometimes she and Herb wonder aloud why they didn't meet years ago, but in reality, they know it is part of God's plan. Without their first marriages, they would not have had the children they had. She is also not sure Herb would have been interested in her at that time.
"I had a set of rules and he was a very romantic guy - so we approached things differently. And he didn't become a Christian until 1975. Before that, he was happy-go-lucky guy who made a lot of money. But there is more to life than money. Just look at what is going on in Kenya… I'm a firm believer that God blesses us with money not so much to get all the beautiful things… but to help other people and that's what we try to do."
You have certain principles in life and I think what you have to do is stand up for what's right. People often ask her why she doesn't help the poor in this country and she is ready with an answer. "The poor in this country have a home, have food, have a car, have television. In a third world country, that is upper middle class."
Many people are blessed in many ways. Some have talent, some have beauty, some have money. Some seem to have it all. The story of one's success is not based on their blessings but rather on what they choose to do with those blessings.
Virginia Marti Veith is one of the people you would say has it all. She has chosen to share her blessings wherever possible. It is easy for some to write a check or make a donation of some kind to a charity.
Virginia, who has lived in New York and Paris and been at the very top of the design world, does not just write a check from atop an ivory tower. She goes to Kenya and holds the hands of orphaned children and gives them food, medicine and education. She brings them hope in the form of a relationship with God.
She takes the blessings she has received and shares them at every opportunity. We all leave our mark on the world as we pass through. Virginia Marti-Veith's mark is filled with God's grace and blessings and will profit those who have met her for many years after she is gone.
More on the Virginia Marti College of Art and Design
Congratulations to Virginia Marti Veith who was named ClevelandWomen.com Mother of the Year for 2008 for her role as mother of 8, grandmother of 27, great-grandmother of 5 and "mother" to dozens of children in Africa.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson (3/08)
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