Mikatarian, known then as Jean Sewell, was one of the original Ballerinas with the Marching Southerners of JSU. She attained the status while a high-school student, which was allowed at the time.
Fifty years later, Mikatarian lived in Houston, working as a documentation specialist for the International Space Station for NASA.
Mikatarian died June 3 at her home in Houston. She was 71. Her three children, Beth Mason, Craig Mason and Lynn Crook, brought her home to Jacksonville, where she was buried Thursday.
Growing up in Jacksonville, friends rarely remember seeing Mikatarian without lifelong friends, Marynell Glazner Pate and Gwen Conlee Westbrook.
“I heard someone say the other day the three of them were like sisters,” Pate’s daughter, Denise Gunnells said.
Westbrook recalled group fishing trips and going out dancing. The three graduated from Jacksonville High School together in 1958. Soon after, Mikatarian married Alan Mason, an original Marching Southerners drum major, and the couple moved to Huntsville. But Westbrook said she never lost touch with her friends in Jacksonville. “She came to every reunion,” she said.
Mikatarian gave birth to her first child, Beth, a year after she and Mason married. Two more followed and eventually Mason’s job in the aerospace field led the family to Houston. Mikatarian stayed at home to raise the children. When she followed Mason into the aerospace field in 1982, taking a job in quality control for flight simulators, it was only the second job she’d ever had, according to her son, Craig.
Her daughter, Beth, later encouraged her to apply at Boeing where she began working as a contractor for the International Space Station. By all accounts, Mikatarian thrived in her new career.
“She loved her job,” her sister Ann Key said. “She worked more hours than were ever required. In fact, she kind of lost herself in that job after Alan died.”
And it was there that she met Ron Mikatarian.
“We had worked in the same building on the same floor for awhile but she wasn’t anymore interested in getting married than I was,” Ron said. “Then one day we just saw each other.”
They married in May of 2008.
“She brought together both our families,” Ron said, adding that the wedding was a huge affair because his bride insisted all of the couple’s children and grandchildren from their first marriages be included in the wedding party.
“They were all there at the altar, and she loved it,” he said. “She instantly became their grandmother.”
Ron said the next few years the couple worked side by side, literally — “our offices were a 10 second walk apart” — until Mikatarian had to take medical leave 10 months ago.
He still goes to work at their office in Houston, as does Beth. Ron said Mikatarian loved her work.
“She was totally engrossed into the NASA Space Program,” he said. “Her dedication and excitement was incredible.”
Ron’s description echoes that of friends and family who remember her as a vibrant, vivacious woman.
“Electric,” brother-in-law, Bob Henriques said.
“Larger than life,” daughter-in-law Muriel Mason agreed.
Mikatarian’s niece, Susan Knowles, recalled the day her Aunt Jean baby-sat while her mother was in the hospital delivering her baby sister, Jana.
“She’d made up dance moves to the yellow polka-dot bikini song,” Knowles said. “She spent the entire time trying to get me to sing and dance with her.”
Daughter Lynn told the story of a road trip in which her mother found out Lynn’s husband had never been to New Orleans.
“She said ‘Take this exit right here,’” Lynn recalled. “She showed him all of New Orleans in five hours, her high heels clicking the whole way.”
When Lynn’s daughter, Megan, was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of three, she said it was that spirit and resolve that helped pull the family through. “She is a very strong woman and a woman of great faith,” Lynn said. “She talked to me every day and said Megan was in God’s hands.”
Mikatarian’s spirit of adventure and fierce determination are what loved ones say carried a Marching Ballerina from Alabama to the International Space Station program and it is what will be remembered by those she left behind.