“STITCH”: Long Live the Memory of the Queen

Esther Vosgerchian (1922-2020)

Every Armenian community has at least one or the other, a king or a queen in each generation; those rare individuals are perennial leaders who succeed in anything with which they choose to be involved. Esther “Stitch” Vosgerchian was one of those in her generation, the first generation born and educated in America, the children of the genocide survivors. One foot in the “Old Country” and the other in the USA, educated here and inculcated in the spirit of both cultures. 

Like my own two sisters of that same generation, born in the early and mid 1920s, they acted as translators for their parents, relatives and their friends, and especially for those unmarried bachelors from the coffee houses, the “serjaran.” In this environment in 1933 all three joined the “Nejdeh Tzeghagrons,” which came to be known as the TZs. In 1933, Karekin Nejdeh was sent from Bulgaria by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) to create a national patriotic youth organization associated with the ARF to be organized in North America, and he named them the Tzeghagrons. 

The translation means: the name of the founder, General Karekin Nejdeh, a pre-WWI Czarist military officer known as General Nejdeh because of his prowess to create the Armenian Republic in 1918, Tzeghagrons is derived from a contrived Armenian compound word that he created from “tzegh,” meaning race, and “gronk,” meaning religion.

Esther became the leader the ARF wanted to develop through the TZs, embodying its goals in the Detroit community, where she became the fulfillment of their promise to promote a cadre of young Armenian American leaders for the burgeoning Armenian communities of the USA and  Canada. In1940, the TZs name was changed to the Armenian Youth Federation, in short, the AYF.  

“Stitch” became a well known upfront leader with a no-holds-barred manner of speech, always adding some unnecessary vociferousness. In short, she was always curt and a very big doer; most talkers are not doers. She was a rare leader who not only had ideas but knew how to execute them into reality. She was always critical and opinionated with caustic expressions, in short, a teacher who at the same time did not suffer fools. 

In 1957, I was on the Niagara Falls AYF Olympic Committee, so when I moved to Detroit to attend college in 1960, it was useful for me to be on the 1961 AYF Detroit Olympic  Committee. That committee had two advisors, one Detroit King, Aram “Sonny” Gavoor, and one Queen, Esther “Stitch” Vosgerchian. This was my lucky introduction to these two  marvelous teachers as our organizational advisers, and here are a couple of examples of how we functioned. We were a committee of seven AYFers and two senior advisers who met weekly with progress reports. As the ad book chairman, I was asked about a particular person by Stitch. When I indicated no success, she said she would take care of it, challenging my ability.  

At the next weekly meeting under the topic of the ad book, we asked about her effort, and she reported that she was successful. We asked how she did it. She said he bought a full page ad for his business and explained, “I just called him a cheap son of a bitch, that his father (a deceased ARFer) would not be happy with him, and anyway, the ad is a business deduction for you.” 

These examples make my point; she had a very sharp tongue with many memorable  expressions. For those involved individuals who immigrated from other places to Detroit like myself, she called us “Johnny Come Latelys.” For those who got involved late in life like the men who formed the ARF Woodrow Wilson Gomideh, she called us the “Cloak and Dagger” Gomideh, because we did not meet at the church, but rented a room at the Dearborn Community Center. These were not derogatory statements, just factual ones. 

Here is an example of both she and Sonny being great teachers: seven of us were gathered around a table at the ARF “Civic Center Club” on Linwood Avenue in Detroit, and one of us wanted to change a decision from a previous meeting! We had to check the minutes of that previous meeting to locate the maker of the original motion to agree to retract his/her motion, then the person who seconded the motion, who refused to withdraw the second. This is when you get the meaning of going to school with them; from this meeting you would have thought  we were a committee of the US Congress or the British Parliament. 

Among her many talents, Stitch was a great dancer; she seemed to always lead the dance lines and knew all the various steps of the original village dances of the genocide survivor generation, which was very prominent in Detroit and not anywhere else. Stitch not only out-talked and out-worked most of us, she also out-danced all of us with her distinctive vertical hopping style.  

Unusual for women at that time, in the early 1950s Esther joined the ARF Antranig Gomideh, one of the first English-speaking committees formed after World War II In Detroit. There she was very active in the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia (ACIA), the forerunner of today’s Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). Eventually, she concentrated her efforts with the AYF and the building of the St. Sarkis Church in Dearborn, Michigan of which she was a lifelong active member. 

Esther “Stitch” Vosgerchian passed away on November 11, 2020, a month shy of her 98th birthday. Almost a centenarian, she never married and had no children or grandchildren. Sadly, not many of her generation were left, along with a handful of others, to attend her funeral mass. With the exception of her nephew from a deceased brother and his three children, I was the only other person to attend her burial service with Der Hayr Hrant Kevorkian.  

As I placed my flower on her casket and said, “Togh hoghuh tehtev ka koo ajoonnerit vrah,” I am sure she said, “Thanks for coming, Johnny Come Lately!” I still remember the gift she and her sister Roxie gave me and my wife for our wedding 56 years ago. 

“Yertas Parov,” Stitch. I bet you are still the drum majorette leading the Armenian parade in heaven as you did here on earth in Detroit.

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