The Passing of Gregory Arakelian, Our Pontiac ‘Aharonian’ AYF Buddy

We knew he had been battling cancer for a long time, but when Edward Haroutunian alerted me at the end of July that Gregory Arakelian’s health was rapidly declining, I wrote all of our AYF friends’ names on a card and mailed it to him, so he would know we would never forget him, nor all the enjoyment we derived from each other.

My phone call to him a few days later confirmed that a weakened Greg, 70, fondly remembered our days in the AYF, too. Arakelian had also received phone calls from Ed Haroutunian, Judy (Haroutunian) Mead in Calgary, Calif., Charles Meledosian, and Sharon Maraian. Sharon had given a lavish reunion party at her home last year when Greg and all of us relived the old days with relish.

Even so, we were stunned and grief stricken when the news of his death arrived on Aug. 20. I “heard” it in every e-mail and phone call. We had also in recent years lost Arthur Azoian, Geraldine Kevorkian, and Virginia Hagopian, and were not prepared to lose another unger.

As Haroutunian and Meledosian indicated, Greg commanded a special respect. “Many of us took our cues from Greg,” Haroutunian said. “He was a person with very sound judgment. We were young and naive. The boys looked to him on how to handle themselves with others. He would drive a car load of kids to Detroit to join the ‘Mourad-Zavarian’ and ‘Christopher’ Chapters for socials. We could count on Greg.”

Meledosian said, “I remember Greg and I would go to Highland Park to buy the gum for the machines we had in businesses to earn money for the club. My parents urged me to join the AYF and I did so because I knew Greg. We double-dated and he drove because I was still too young to drive.”

We loved Greg. He was fun and funny. He rode us around on his motorbike and was a steadying element during AYF meetings. He was a quiet leader everyone respected. He had a habit of creating laughable moments during meetings, and I, as president, would have to pull in the reins.

Jobs, marriage, and children gave us less time to keep up with each other, but they did not lessen our love for each other. He never failed to phone me during my own bouts with illness. I did the same for him.

Greg told me how proud he was when our little chapter defeated all the big ones like Boston, Detroit, and Providence, and succeeded in winning the Central Executive’s trophy for the most educational points. He gratefully acknowledged that I was a tough taskmaster who demanded educational reports at our bi-weekly meetings in our knotty pine AYF room with the map of Hayastan on the wall. We sang “Mer Hairenik” and “Haratch Nahadag” with gusto and never failed to giggle at the part “go-to-gel.”

Greg recalled how one of our members got the bright idea to sell Christmas trees one year, but was nowhere in sight to take selling duties. He and I were the only ones enduring the cold to enrich chapter coffers.

He was the eldest child of staunch Tashnags Harry and Suzie Arakelian, who belonged to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), respectively. Like his parents, Greg was a dedicated Hye.

Judy Azoian Hickey was immersed in sadness about losing our pal, saying, “Greg was a great guy and a wonderful friend.”

Ed Haroutunian said, “When I mentioned our AYF days and how he would drive a car load of kids to join the Detroit ‘Mourad-Zavarian’ and ‘Christopher’ Chapters at the old ‘Getron,’ the ‘Findlater,’ Greg remembered and said, ‘Those were the good old days.’ Being a few years older than most of us, Greg was a mentor in several ways. He had insights into both Armenian and non-Armenian related subjects.”

Greg had retired from GM after 37 years as a quality control engineer. He volunteered at the Henry Ford Museum and the Walter P. Chrysler Car Museum. He had a strong passion for vintage motorcycles, bicycles, and motorcycles, and had restored Model “A” Ford cars. In our last conversation only a few weeks ago, he was still seeking to restore a Whizzer Motor bike. They were manufactured in Pontac, where all of us AYF kids came from with pride.

Gregory G. Arakelian of Orion, Mich., is survived by wife Tamara, his mother Susie Arakelian, children Paul (Liz), Lynette (Peter) Daniels, and Phillip (Tammy) Arakelian, five loving grandchildren, and sisters Rosemarie (James) Arakelian-Pryor and Lorrie (David) Haydon. He was preceded in death by his father George Arakelian and sister Patricia Arakelian.

Funeral services were held on Sat., Aug. 27, from the Waterford Coats Funeral Home. Tebi Hayastan, Gregory. You are our unger forever.

Betty Apigian-Kessel

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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