TEANECK, N.J.—Four distinguished individuals will be at the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) Centennial Banquet on Oct. 21, to be held at the elegant Glenpointe Marriott in Teaneck.
Dr. Nazareth Darakjian and his wife, Dr. Ani Darakjian, and Joyce Philibosian Stein and her husband, Joe Stein, have demonstrated a multi-decade-long commitment and dedication to the AMAA. Both families are major benefactors of the AMAA’s Centennial Campaign.
Dr. Darakjian, who has served for the past three years as the president of the AMAA, has been a member of its board for almost two decades. His father and grandfather were ministers of the Armenian Evangelical Church. He attends the United Armenian Congregational Church with his wife, Dr. Ani Darakjian.
Born in Aleppo, Syria, he and his family moved to Beirut then to Chicago, where he finished medical school, cum laude, at Loyola University Medical School of Medicine in Ophthalmology. He finally settled in Los Angeles, specializing in diseases and surgery of the eyes, and has offices in Hollywood and Pasadena. He is also on the governing board of the Armenian American Museum in Glendale.
Very active in the Armenian Evangelical community, he has also served as treasurer of the Merdinian Armenian Evangelical School for many years. He relates that there currently are 15 Armenian Evangelical churches in California, encompassing one percent of the California Armenian population.
Church Is Our Second Family
“Our community is built on the church, whose mission is renewing our faith, understanding the teachings of the Bible, and re-energizing fellowship with friends and parishioners. The church is our second family,” he said in an interview ahead of the event.
“The AMAA is the mission arm of the church. It allows us to get out of the four walls of the church and reach out to people and communities that are thousands of miles away. The AMAA mission is to send humanitarian aid to needy individuals, support Armenian educational institutions all over the world, and to help spread the good news of the Gospel through our churches and fellowships wherever they may be,” he added.
According to Dr. Darakjian, the AMAA has come a long way in its 100 year history in accomplishing its mission. “We are carrying a torch that has come to us from our predecessors, and it is our duty to run with it and pass it on to future generations,” he noted.
Dr. Ani Darakjian, the daughter of an Armenian Evangelical pastor, also born in Aleppo, moved to Beirut, and then to Chicago, where she graduated as a James Scholar with a B.S. degree from the University of Illinois. Armed with her M.D. degree from Rush Medical College, she moved with her husband to Southern California and is currently a staff radiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Los Angeles. The Darakjians have two sons, Haig and Ara.
An Oasis of Peace
Currently the chairperson of Haigazian University’s Board of Directors, Dr. Ani speaks with pride about the excellent academic standing of this famed institution located in Beirut. “There are strict admission and retention standards, and it ranks high in academic placings,” she says. Fully 40-45 percent of the student body is Armenian, and the rest of the students are from all faiths and ethnic groups in Lebanon. Haigazian also gives post graduate degrees in education, business, and psychology.
Calling Haigazian “an oasis of peace” in a turbulent Middle East, she points out that it survived several Lebanese civil wars. “Haigazian’s ‘parent’ is the AMAA, which funds it. Because many of the current Armenian students are refugees from the six-year Syrian war, most are on scholarship. Haigazian does special fundraising for its students, with the AMAA launching a $20 million campaign, with a portion allotted for the school,” she adds. “Haigazian and the AMAA are a family. They overlap. The best way for individuals to advance and be successful is through education.”
A Courageous Leader and Brilliant Scholar
Deeply involved with Haigazian University, Joyce Philibosian Stein speaks with great pride about its founder, Dr. Armenag Haigazian, a Yale University-educated leader and theologian who had returned to Cilicia and become president of the Apostolic Institute in Konya. “Deported by the Turkish forces, he fell ill and died on the way to prison in Kharpert,” she explains, adding that the New York Times reported his death on May 26, 1921.
Joyce’s parents were both born in Hadjin. Her father, Stephen (Yeprem) Philibosian, was passionately interested in education for his people, especially in the Middle East, from elementary schools to university levels. “He was a great influence in my life. His dream was of lifting young people up. He underwrote thousands of scholarships,” she says.
Inspired by Stephen Mehagian, whose father-in-law was Armenag Haigazian, Mr. Philibosian, became “the driving force of the growth and expansion of Haigazian,” Joyce says. Together with Stephen Mehagian, they co-founded Haigazian University in 1955. It was at a fundraising dinner at that time at which Stephen Philibosian donated a very generous $50,000 endowment fund to this exemplary project.
“The goal was to provide education for minority students with the hope that these students would stay in the Middle East. It has served its purpose of serving not only all Armenians but also other minority students,” she says, adding that Armenian Ambassador to the U.S. Grigor Hovhannissian credits Haigazian for his rise to his post as ambassador.
“A good percentage of Armenians in Lebanon and Syria are graduates of Haigazian,” she says, adding that the U.S. State Department provided funds for a thousand students from the villages in Lebanon to be recipients of the four-year program, many of whom enrolled at Haigazian.
Joyce, herself, who graduated with a B.A. in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, also was awarded an Honorary LLD from Haigazian University.
My Heart Is There
“My heart is there,” says Joyce Stein, who in addition is the chairperson of the Stephen Philibosian Foundation, which was created in 1970 to perform educational, cultural, and humanitarian work among Armenians. She is also the national chair of the AMAA Orphan and Child Care Committee, “a group of energetic women” from all Armenian denominations, including the Armenian Catholic, Diocesan, Prelacy churches, as well as Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU). “There isn’t another committee in America that has this mosaic of members,” she notes.
This committee started in 1989 after the Armenian earthquake for educating, mentoring, and camping in Armenia and Artsakh. During an annual event in Los Angeles, $250,000 was raised, along with another six-figure amount in Boston.
Mrs. Stein is involved with a myriad of charitable organizations. She has chaired the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital Auxiliary, three Philadelphia Orchestra Galas benefitting the Children’s Hospital, and the Philadelphia Academy of Music Museum, and she has been a Trustee of the John and Sirouhie Conte Foundation, and Life Trustee of the Armenian Assembly of America, among others.
The Stein spirit of philanthropy has followed down the family line with daughter Christina having served as a member of Haigazian’s board of trustees and the Conte Foundation, and daughter Stephanie and Joyce’s sister Louise as active members of the Philibosian Foundation. The Steins have also been blessed with sons-in-law Michael and David, and six grandchildren.
“The AMAA has had a great impact in all these projects,” comments Joyce, who was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for her outstanding contributions to this country. “Joe and I will continue our AMAA work because of its exceptional integrity and transparency.”
Joe Stein, Joyce’s husband, was born of parents of German descent. After graduation from college, his father was invited to be a student professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB) from 1921 to 1924. During that time, he became acquainted with Armenians by delivering food to Armenians living in caves in Syria following the Armenian Genocide and their deportation from Turkey.
Joe, following graduation from Haverford College, went on to study at the Union Theological Seminary, and after his marriage to Joyce in 1954 lived in Scotland for a year while he was studying theology at St. Mary’s Love College, Saint Andrews University.
He also served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957 and was invited by Mr. Philibosian to join his oriental rug business in Philadelphia. In 1979, the Steins moved to California, where he was involved in several business ventures.
Governor George Deukmejian appointed Joe to the California State Board of Education, where he served from 1985 to 1990, two years as president. He takes pride in being a co-founder of “Armenians by Choice,” and pays tribute to his wife for her “influence on me and our daughters for her great service to the AMAA Orphan and Child Care Committee, and for her selfless devotion in serving more than three decades, faithfully carrying on the legacy of her father.”
Joe currently serves on the AMAA Board, and its Foreign Properties Committee. He and Joyce have traveled to Armenia more than 20 times, and frequently to Beirut on behalf of Haigazian University.