FRANKLIN, Mass.—This summer will mark the 59th anniversary of our beloved Camp Haiastan.
Camp Haiastan has become a symbol of unity for our Armenian youth every summer the gates are opened. Camp Haiastan is filled with an everlasting history, much of which is forever identified in the memories of the young men and women who once called it home.
Prior to the start of the 2009 summer season, the camp staff was given a history lesson that they wouldn’t soon forget. Baron Harry Kushigian and Baron Mesrob Odian, both of whom have served as camp directors in the past, visited Camp Haiastan during Staff Training Week. They were accompanied by Melkon Varadian, who has been a staple in the Providence community for decades as well as an instrumental member of the founding group that built Camp Haiastan. Baron Mesrob and Varadian both broke down the history of the camp into a timeline specific to its development, including the people who volunteered and made it all happen.
The current campgrounds (approximately 100 acres) were purchased in 1941 for $5,000, which was borrowed from the Armenian Red Cross. With the help of volunteers, including Varadian, Camp Haiastan was opened in 1951. However, unlike today, it was not a co-ed camp; boys and girls would attend during different sessions. It was not until 1954 that camp became co-ed. In 1980, camp constructed the infirmary, and the recreational hall, cabins, and dining hall were renovated. In 2002, Gladys Fermanian donated $245,000 and the recreational hall was named in her honor. In 2006, the Hye Hope Pavilion was built in memory of Linda Bahtiarian Demarest, who attended camp with her siblings and before her passing wanted to leave a gift for the camp. The Bahtiarian family donated $90,000 towards the construction of the pavilion, which has now become part the camp’s core.
Baron Mesrob further elaborated on the significance of the camp as a unit of Armenian identity for a community that had been exiled from their land and forced into assimilation in a foreign territory. By attracting the youth, Camp Haiastan also functioned as a way to bringing the entire community together.
Baron Kushigian spoke about how the camp has been a link between generations of families. Younger generations of campers have been able to relate to their parents and grandparents through the medium of camp. Camp has also helped produced thousands of friendships that have lasted lifetimes.
Before Baron Mesrob, Baron Kushigian, and Varadian concluded their lesson, they emphasized how camp has grown as a result of people dedicating and sacrificing their time to making it better than it was before. The current summer director, Baron Peter Jelalian, has dedicated much of his life to camp, and unfortunately this was his final summer as the director. Though he will be missed, his years of service and dedication will never be forgotten. Despite the emotional exit of our current baron, this camp, this community, is eager and excited to welcome the new camp director, Oriyort Sharon Dardarian, who will succeed Baron Peter Jelalian. She is an intelligent and well-respected woman, with a background in teaching gifted children. The baton has been passed on to Oriyort Sharon. It is now under her directorship and with our help, we will all “make it better than it was before.”