Apigian-Kessel: Sharon Maranian Gives Pontiac AYF Reunion Party

Old(er) Tashnags never die, they just keep faithful to the Cause. To that end, former members of the Pontiac “Aharonian” AYF Chapter recently gathered at the Garden City home of Sharon Pompeian Maranian, who initiated the reunion of the late-1950’s group.

Ungers and Ungerouhis greeted each other with sincere hugs and kisses. We seldom see each other as we did in those halcyon days of our youth, so Sharon’s thoughtful idea for a party for members and spouses came as a welcome suggestion. “Bring pictures,” she said, and several did.

Sharon’s preparation for our reunion was lavish, from the initial welcoming of delicious chocolates and drinks to the eye-popping mezza table loaded with sarma, basterma, shrimp, lahmajun, tourshee, boeregs and more, filling every inch of her huge diningroom table. I wish we had sung Harach Nahadag like we did at the opening of every meeting, but non-AYFers were also present and it didn’t seem right.

We dined on a multi-course dinner of a variety of entrees and salads. Do you really think we should have had room left for the chocolate cake, paklava, and other desserts paraded before us, including a variety of grapes that looked like they were on steroids?

Our hostess still possesses a svelte figure just as when she was the quiet pretty AYF teenager sitting in our knotty pine meeting room in the Raffi Agoump on Ferry Avenue. Sharon is now a registered nurse at Royal Oak’s Beaumont Hospital. Her son, Paul, is a major in the USAF. Her mother, Helen Nazarian Pompeian, was a member of the Pontiac “Ani” ARS Chapter before moving to Rochester, Minn. years ago to save her teenage son Edward’s life from kidney failure. They still reside there.

Edward and wife Jayne traveled the distance for our reunion. He has become a successful businessman in Rochester, but more importantly he is the founder of Transplant House, which had its humble beginnings years ago in a motel Edward bought to house those who come to the world-famous Mayo Clinic in need of organ transplants.

Transplant House grew to acquire a mansion, and this month the dedication of a huge new facility will take place near the clinic, making room for the growing number of patients needing transplants. All this because of Edward Pompeian’s thankfulness to the medical facility that correctly diagnosed his near-fatal ailment.

This is the fabric of which many other Aharonian Chapter members are made. Edward Haroutunian became an attorney and a powerful voice in Wayne County (Detroit) and the State Republican Party. Charles Meledosian is a self-employed accountant. Greg Arakelian became an engineer, so did Richard Kirk and Arthur Azoian, now deceased. Arpi Dakesian Dunn worked for a supermarket chain. Rosemary Arakelian Prior is the administrator for the Manoogian Home for the Aged. Judy Azoian Hickey is a hairdresser, as was her sister Sadie Azoian before her marriage to tailor Vahan Basmajian, who gave us the news that he was selected to make blazers and trousers for the 44-member University of Michigan football team.

Sandra Azoian Hutchinson was a financial analyst for EDS. Judy Haroutunian Mead earned her UofM degree in music, married a professor, and lives in Calgary. Bedros Avedian is a real estate investor, Ethel Kevorkian (deceased) was a hairdresser. Janet Kirk Mardigian is on the Diocese Executive Board.

And me? I became your scribe.

Many of us are grandparents. Some have aged better than others, but our spirit is high. We remembered our parents and marveled at their adaptability to their new country, America, and the love and security they gave us.

Vartkes Haroutunian, who was our advisor for several years, would have loved to be here.

Once again we circulated the story on the Aharonian Chapter’s ill-fated fundraiser of selling Christmas trees. Greg Arakelian and I were the only chapter members who would volunteer to stand outside in the deep, cold snow next to my Dad’s store on Ferry Ave. hawking trees to swell our chapter treasury. What a fiasco that turned out to be.

Our agoump was a white wood structure, a former church, with cement steps allowing entry to the front floor and the vestibule, where the old Coke dispenser was. The walls were lined with photos of Tashnag leaders, and it seemed like their eyes followed you as you walked to the stairs that led to the lower level AYF room. A recent drive by the building—to sate my curiosity—showed that it had returned to serving as a house of worship, but with a substantial addition.

We reminisced about those wonderful days in the old neighborhood and all the Armenians who lived nearby. We all knew each other. It was a secure and warm feeling to be part of an Armenian environment. Who knew it would change.

That group of AYFers back in the late 50’s was comprised of members in their teens, with me the eldest as president. You could not find a better bunch of young Armenians. It was unthinkable that any one of them would get into trouble and they never did. They showed up for every meeting and I was emphatic about them doing educational reports.

A lot of good-natured teasing went on about the iron fist I wielded. I reminded them that’s how we won the educational trophy.

Whoever was assigned one always had it done and proudly rose to read it. We kept piling up the points and each chapter’s standing was printed in the Armenian Weekly. That alone was encouragement to forge on. Other chapters tried to catch up with us but failed.

To this day, those teens fondly recall our little Mid-West group of 15 members beating out the likes of the powerhouse chapters like Boston, Detroit, and Providence. We earned the educational trophy but I like to think that it became part of “my kids’” character building.

As long as one of us is left standing, the Pontiac Aharonian Chapter will live on.

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Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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