Rosanne Chebookjian Led a Devoted Life

WALTHAM, Mass.—At a time when the Armenian community needed a helping hand, Rosanne Chebookjian served her heritage well, whether it was through the AYF, Armenian Youth Foundation, or her beloved Camp Haiastan.

Rosanne Chebookjian laid the foundation for a better Armenian community with her diverse roles.

She served with class, ambition, and a sense of conviction that paved the way for future generations. In the true essence of the word, she was a calibrated “Renaissance” woman. When she walked into a room, Rosanne often attracted a crowd and greeted you with an infectious smile.

Above all, she was a quintessential matriarch and wife whose legacy is one to be exemplified. Her death July 27 after a long battle with endometrial cancer leaves behind a remarkable life and career that knew no boundaries. Rosanne was 87 but never took her years seriously. Suffice it to say she defied geriatrics.

For openers, she worked her entire life while raising three active children. She was a bookkeeper at Knight Leather in Cambridge before taking a job as a day manager and treasurer of Weston Richardson Drug Store.

When that business was sold, she proceeded to work as an office manager for a local physician until retiring at age 81.

An honors graduate of Boston Girls’ High School, Rosanne was a born leader and activist from the upstart. She chaired the Library Club, served as assistant editor of her school paper, and was active with athletic clubs.

She belonged to the South Boston AYF Chapter during those fertile 1940’s and the love of her life happened to be a guy named Shant, who served with the marines and was recruited for Officers Training School. Together, they were pioneers in the formation of Camp Haiastan and parented a most active family. Shant later chaired the Governing Body of the AYF Olympic Games and was named an Olympic King in 1977.

Their son Richard wound up as the second-leading scorer in AYF history—a chip off his dad’s athletic block—and later coached the Philly “Sebouhs” to three Olympic championships and their first Olympic Cup.

There to cheer on every golden moment was Rosanne, often making her presence felt, if not visibly than with verbal bouquets.

Daughters Sema Arakelian and Susan Chebookjian plied similar roles in the family, joined by Richard’s wife Karolyn and Sema’s husband Paul, together with grandchildren Anoush and Armen Chebookjian Arakelian.

All three children were bred out of the AYF and Camp Haiastan mold, served their time diligently, and continue to be involved to this day.

Rosanne was born in South Boston, the daughter of Stephen and Satenig (Sahagian) Karoghlanian, the oldest of five siblings, including Anahid Changelian, noted for her role as a singing diva; Roxie Sudjian, Mary Jelalian, and Stephen Karoghlanian, Jr.

She was of Malatia descent with both her parents born in that town. Her rich childhood experiences with those from her parents’ village inspired her to begin a minstrel show that highlighted the musical talent of Malatiatsi citizens.

It became one of the most anticipated shows each year, drawing people from across the country.

In one of her last interviews, Rosanne retraced her AYF roots in the 1940’s, when the country was at war and the organization was being diluted of boys and men making the ultimate sacrifice.

“It was absolutely a devastating time for a young girl like myself,” she said. “I wrote to many soldiers and remember a ‘Siamanto’ Ball vividly. It was always a coed affair but because of the war, many singles came.”

Rosanne recalled with deep sentiment those that were missing and POWs, including Kenny Kazanjian, Mourid Piligian, and Phil Aslanian.

“Tears came to our eyes as each name was read,” she remembered.

Rosanne bided her time as a sports correspondent for the Hairenik Weekly, served five years on Central Executive, and was treasurer for an Olympics in New York.

“We made $3,000 that year, which I held against my chest as I took the midnight train from Grand Central Station to Boston,” she traced back. “Only a few people stayed in hotels. Most of us were housed in homes.”

She was elected to the Central Executive from 1944-48 during those tumultuous World War II years when the AYF was in limbo, but continued to persevere behind its women. She gave diligently and loyally of her personal time through chapter visits, field trips and Olympics supervision.

In 1978, Rosanne was named an honorary member of the AYF at the 45th Convention, given in recognition of long service and devotion to the organization.

While serving the AYF Central, Rosanne chaired the Central Athletic Council—the only female to serve that capacity in the organization’s history.

As a pioneer in the formation of Camp Haiastan, she personally helped clear the campsite of trees for the initial building construction and was involved in the purchase and construction of the original cabins.

She was a past member of the South Boston ARF Chapter—one of only two females to have held membership in that Gomideh.

She was a charter member of the AYF National Fund Drive Committee, which gathered funds to stabilize the organization, and belonged to the National Board of Directors.

Rosanne gave of herself unselfishly to the perpetuation of the ideals and purposes of the AYF, as a member/alumna for 65 years and in many leadership capacities. Over that time, she symbolized the very backbone of this organization and never sputtered as a missionary of good will.

Her endearment to the AYF could only be matched by her devotion to the Armenian Youth Foundation. She was a board member since the Foundation’s incorporation in 1975, serving as secretary right up to the time of her death.

In that capacity, she helped raised considerable sums of money toward the enhancement of Camp Haiastan.

Later years found her involved with the Ladies’ Guild of St. Stephen’s Armenian Church in Watertown, even serving on that organization’s Executive Board.

One of her last public appearances was made during the 75th anniversary celebration of the AYF in Boston. She was accompanied by her three children and glowed with effervescence.

“To see how far this organization has come and all it’s done to promote our heritage and culture is a tribute to all those who’ve participated in its success,” she rejoiced. “I feel honored to cherish this moment.”

Bedrosian Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements. Burial took place in Westview Cemetery, in Lexington, Mass.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Armenian Youth Foundation, PO Box 701, Watertown, MA 02472.

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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