PRESTONSBURG – Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) and the East Kentucky Science Center (EKSC) held a dedication ceremony on Saturday, June 6 for the Dr. Mahendra Varia Planetarium.
Dr. Devin Stephenson, president of BSCTC, said it isn’t often that you experience benevolence and philanthropy in such a strong way and that the “Varia spirit of giving and selflessness” is a model we can all follow.
“Dr. Mahendra Varia and the Varia family have an unwavering dedication to education and to children, and they clearly understand the value of education in our contemporary society,” Dr. Stephenson told the crowd. “It is a stairway to the stars of success; a skywalk to promise; and a light beam to a bright future.”
Dr. Varia served as a member of the Big Sandy College Educational Foundation, Inc. for more than 30 years. He was also a councilman for the city of Martin from 1998 until his passing in 2014.
A veterinarian by trade, the Varia Family Foundation and the American Veterinarian Foundation held an animal clinic last year, the first of its kind in eastern Kentucky, providing free medical services to pets. A mountain in Martin was also named in Dr. Varia’s honor.
The Varia Family Foundation made a $100,000 gift to BSCTC’s BuildSmart project in December. The project is the planning phase of an expansion of the college’s Pikeville campus, including a 60,000 square-foot building and a parking garage.
Dr. Henry Webb, superintendent of Floyd County Schools, spoke of his relationship with Dr. Chandra Varia, Dr. Mahendra Varia’s wife, and their family.
“You don’t truly know someone until you know their heart,” he said. “Dr. Chandra [Varia] loves her family, her community and the children of this region.”
Anand Doshi, the nephew of Dr. Mahendra and Dr. Chandra Varia, said his uncle was dedicated to science and math.
“He was well-rounded,” said Doshi. “My uncle would be proud that his name is on a building that is committed to education.”
Satya Mehta, Dr. Mahendra and Dr. Chandra Varia’s grandson, told a story of frequent visits to his uncle’s library.
“He had a book of astronomy that had a piece of meteorite in it,” Mehta said. “It was the only book that I wanted to read. I have the book and I often look at it when I visit my parents.”
Sheel Mehta Slone, the granddaughter of Dr. Mahendra and Dr. Chandra Varia, read a quote: “Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.”
Dr. Chandra Varia spoke her husband with eloquent words.
“He was my soulmate and my best friend,” she said. “We would often watch the sky together. He would be proud of this today.”
Steve Russo, director of the EKSC, and John Rosenberg, a member of the EKSC’s advisory board, offered remarks on the facility’s state-of-the-art technology and the history behind the formation of the center.
Dr. Stephenson closed his remarks with a poignant statement: “May the Dr. Mahendra Varia Planetarium serve as a shining example for students to dream to achieve and to shoot for the stars. May we all never forget that it is important for us to continue to shoot for the moon, and even if we miss, we’ll land among the stars.”