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Mourning Ara Parseghian

August 6, 2017

In 1915, millions of Armenian Christians understood that it was no longer safe to remain in Turkey or in remnants of the Ottoman Empire throughout the Middle East. For Turkish Armenians that began a Diaspora that touches the lives of Americans of Armenian descent even today.

We were reminded of that on Wednesday of this week when Ara Parseghian died at age 94.

I was a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame, entering in 1965 immediately after working on the Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater.  Ara Parseghian preceded me by several months when, in 1964, he became head football coach.

I would occasionally see him on the green of the 18th hole of the campus golf course that was adjacent to the Morris Inn, a campus hotel and dining facility. And I particularly remember one football game when Notre Dame played USC.

The star of USC was O. J. Simpson. Simpson took the ball on one play, and swept across the field to a touchdown. Ara watched and just shook his head.

We Americans of Armenian descent are proud of Ara and the many Armenians who made lives in America.  My grandfather came from the same town as California Governor, George Deukmejian, and I have framed a plate block of commemorative stamps honoring William Saroyan. The son of Michael Arlen wrote a story titled Passage to Ararat that is worth reading, if you can find it. His father, a distinguished writer, was Armenian but never told his son.

I also have a certificate from Ellis Island that records that my Grandfather arrived in America on April 12, 1912. The Titanic sank on April 15. He was lucky to have left Aintab, Turkey before the Armenian holocaust. My grandmother was less lucky. She and her sisters, Roman Catholics from Aleppo (Syria), fled to Egypt and from there barely made it to the United States.

My daughter visited Ellis Island a few months ago and read a report that on arrival my Grandfather was held for observation for six days. He attempted to learn English on the boat that brought him to America. With little English, American immigration authorities wanted to be certain that he was of sound mind and not carrying any communicable diseases. They commenced his assimilation by giving him an American first name, Harry, and spelled his family name using the letter “J” that isn’t in the Armenian alphabet. I wonder what would happen if the Immigration Service tried that today.

My father, their first child, was born in Troy, New York and learned English only upon entering public school. Somehow they all survived—-as entrepreneurs–as were so many Armenians with little education and speaking little to no English.

Ara Parseghian was a Presbyterian which for us Armenians is significant. Presbyterian missionaries were active in Armenia and sponsored thousands of escapees from the Holocaust. When they settled here they adopted the Presbyterian religion of their benefactors. My father’s cousin, Harry Voperian, was Presbyterian. I became Lutheran following the faith of my mother’s family.

A few Armenians lived in cities where there were concentrations of Armenians who established Armenian Orthodox churches–Fresno and Boston. There is an Armenian church, St. Mary’s, in Washington, DC.   Steve Jobs was adopted by Armenians and I attribute his entrepreneurship to their influence.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I was born and raised, had only a few Armenian families, but as a child I still remember  the name of an old man–an Armenian priest–who lived nearby.

I could go on but, today, let’s remember Ara and pray for him.

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