This is always the very last article I pen. It’s an homage to Angel Perethian, who wrote “Angel Over the Olympics” for many years. Tom Vartabedian would always say that her piece was the first article people looked for in these pages. Like many aspects of the AYF and the Olympics, we try to keep things going and live up to Mal Varadian’s charge, “Make it better than it was.”
What a glorious and memorable weekend it was. It was great to be a part of the fifth time Chicago hosted the AYF Olympics. It was the second time in three years that the Olympics were in the Midwest. The weather was perfect. The athletic venues were amazingly close to the wonderful O’Hare Hyatt. Everything was so well planned and executed.
After Vahe Berberian’s show, I met Hatchig Kantzabedian and Minas Kaftajian from Dallas outside Zanies Comedy Club. It was their first time at the AYF Olympics. They told me they always take a Labor Day trip with their wives. The marketing buzz for the Olympics in Chicago on social media and in the Armenian press helped them make the AYF Olympics in Chicago their destination this year.
This was the first Olympics with a mascot. Chicago Amo was the creation of the Steering Committee’s Ardem Hardy who was responsible for Marketing and Sponsorship. She also drew the various cartoons. Amo, himself, made an appearance at the Track and Field games on Sunday.
This was the first Olympics with young visitors from Australia. One of them was my cousin Olivia Dilanchian. She was with her friends Nareg Yedelian and Meghety Zaitounian. Maybe next year, we will have participants from Australia?
As every year, I was delighted to get my hands on the Ad Book. The first page I opened to was from the Der Kaloustian family honoring their father Archpriest Mousegh Der Kaloustian who passed away earlier this year. It was fitting as he is one of my favorite Der Hayrs. I did get to see Der Moushegh’s son Garo and catch-up with him.
One of the joys of writing daily reports from the AYF Olympics is to get to know the current crop of AYFers. They are a wonderful bunch and live up to Varadian’s call. This year I saw old friends like Kyle Dinkjian, Mark Santerian, Meghri Dervartanian, Pete Tashjian, Nareg Mkrtschjan, Kenar Charchaflian, Garo Tashian, the Ayrian sisters and the Krafian sisters.
It did everyone’s heart good to watch the parade of athletes. It was especially nice to see the Kings, Queens and Varadian Award winners marching with them.
In August, I started referring to Armen Papazian of Chicago as Impresario Armen. He was in charge of the Entertainment Committee for this year’s Olympics and responsible for bringing Vahe Berberian, Tigran Asatryan and Harout Pamboukjian. He has been booking big names for Chicago’s All Saints Armenian Church community for years. He also fills the halls and makes these events successful fundraisers. That is exactly what an impresario does! Bravo, Impresario Armen.
I missed seeing old friends Steve Panosian and Peter Bonjuklian who were not able to make the trip this year. Andrew and Madonna Kzirian were planning to attend, but their plans changed with the passing of Madonna’s mother. Hoping to see them in Worcester 2020.
I loved the Killian family ad remembering their grandfather Dr. Arshag Killian who founded the Chicago AYF with Karekin Nejdeh and their father Ara Killian. Also, there were two ads in memory of Killian khunami Antranig “Anto” Mesrobian who passed in 2018.
I had the opportunity to meet two sisters Sato Sanikian and Haygo Ohanesian from Fresno. They had moved from Beirut to Waukegan back in the 1970s. For the two years they lived there and Kenosha, WI, they sang in the St. Paul choir with my mother in-law Mary Mardoian and fondly remembered her exquisite voice and guidance she provided as their choir director. They have been in Fresno for 43 years. They were delighted to be in Chicago and reconnect with old friends like Mary.
The annual ad from Harry Derderian and Armen Harootian honoring the memory of Tom Vartabedian, The Eternal Olympic Spirit, is another that tugs at my heartstrings.
Before the weekend, I had asked for Olympic memories in one of my daily articles. Several people responded. The first was Bobbie Berberian. “My first Olympics was in 1957 Niagara Falls. The only reason my parents let me go as a young teen was if I went with my aunt Lucy Almasian and stayed in her room. I had no idea Sue Merian was her roommate. Sue was my idol. I had all of her Olympic pictures that were in the Weekly on my bulletin board in my bedroom along with, of course, my favorite Red Sox players. So, there I was at my first Olympics staying with two superstars. I think the Gomidas was the band, but I’m not sure. I had a midnight curfew which was my mother’s rule. I never missed an Olympics after that for about 20 years. In 1967 I was in Beirut and Greece for several months, but I came home early so as not to miss Worcester Olympics. John was playing, and we were dating in those years. John and I were sorry to have missed the Olympics in Chicago this year. See you all in Worcester in 2020.”
Heather Krafian related the other Olympic memory. Actually, it was about a new memory created at this year’s Olympics. It happened on Friday night on the bus returning from the swimming competition to the hotel. Heather’s daughter Anoush commented that here was a bus full of AYFers who did not all know each other. “Perhaps we should play the introduction game we use at Camp Haiastan.” Heather encouraged her, but Anoush was a bit shy. So, Anoush’s sister Nairi took over. “The entire bus introduced themselves and everyone got to meet new people,” noted Heather. “There were 10 to 15 out of a busload of 60 people for whom this was their first Olympics. People that met on the bus, saw each other at softball the next day, solidifying the new friendships. We should do this all the time.” Indeed, we should!
Following the games, Alexan Topalian commented on the proactive efforts of the Providence alumni and chapter executives. “This year, there was a huge push on team building and athletics within the chapter, and I think that is what kept this close knit family together on and off the field.”
Talk about “making it better than it was”; that is the sole focus of the AYF Olympics Governing Body. This current crew of Mike Varadian, Rich Keshgegian, and Daron Topouzian are carrying forth the legacy of a long line of dedicated AYF alumni who have done just that.
Any ad with a family photo in front of the Camp Haiastan sign is always a winner. The Saroukhanian – Bokatzian Family ad was a beauty.
The oddest or most clever ad was “Tebi Montana: Because, let’s face it, you’re never actually going to Armenia!” What? There is a web address, and as far as I can tell, it’s an advertisement for Joomla open-source content management system.
The Olympics this year had a simple and effective slogan: “Meet Us in the Middle.” There was a record number of rooms and participants from the Western Region. The Los Angeles team won both the inaugural three on three basketball on Friday and repeated as the Softball Champions on Sunday. The Krikorian, Hovannisian, and Keosian parents were beaming with joy.
In chatting with Vahe Berberian after his show on Thursday evening, I was delightfully surprised that he was an AYF alum!
I saw a strapping fellow with a tennis racket in his backpack in the lobby. He said he was from New Jersey. While he looked like he had, he told me he never played any organized tennis. When he told me his name, George Noury, I commented that he looked familiar, as was his name. I asked if he owned a café. He said “yes!” It turns out we are friends on Facebook where he does a lot of marketing for his restaurant, Nouri Cafe. I told him his marketing was good, the food looked delicious, and that I would visit his Armenian-Syrian restaurant when I am next in New Jersey. I would encourage everyone else to check it out and support this young entrepreneur!
I had a chance to talk with the newly-crowned Olympic King Raffi Killian, who helped pass out medals at the Track and Field. He was telling me that he and his brother Ari, co-chair of the Olympic Steering Committee, built and painted the tri-color podiums for the 1991 Olympic Games. They have been in use since then. It made me wonder how they get transported from city to city each year.
I want to thank the team that worked on making this Olympics Issue of the Armenian Weekly happen. Bob Tutunjian and Harry Derderian helped write the articles. Bob is also our unparalleled fact checker and AYF athletic stat guru. Sona Gevorkian and Tamar Kanarian took amazing photos all weekend. We always joke with each other that it has taken five of us to carry on the wonderful legacy left by Tom Vartabedian who for 40 plus years did it all himself! Thanks to Khatchig Mouradian of the Armenian Weekly for holding us to the schedule, and especially to Leeza Arakelian—the most skilled, passionate and timely editor it has been our pleasure to work with.