One would think that a community such as Indian Orchard with its long history would have experienced nearly every communal possibility. The community was founded prior to the Genocide by primarily unmarried immigrants seeking to make money and return to the homeland. St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church was founded in 1934 and has been the center of life for this small but vibrant community for decades. This past weekend, the parish experienced an unprecedented and heartening occasion. It was the birthday celebration of one of its most revered members—Armen Tashjian.
Tashjian, loved by all as the “visual historian” of the community, was honored with a family gathering on Friday, March 25. The parish’s celebration was held on Sunday, March 27. A third celebration was hosted three days later at the JGS Lifecare where Armen has been residing for the last several years. The family event was attended by east coast relatives including his niece Sandy Kalvonjian and her husband Harry. Kalvonjian was gracious enough to provide much of the family history for this article.
On Sunday, the parish offered a Lenten luncheon for all as part of the centennial celebration. Armen still attends church about once a month. The Sunday event included a collective group singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ and an opportunity to share greetings with dear Armen. A beautiful cake celebrating this incredible milestone was presented to Armen by the parish. In attendance were members of the Surabian clan from Worcester—Serpouhie, Margaret and Andrea—cousins of Armen on his mother Anna’s side. Der Bedros Shetilian and the Board of Trustees are to be complimented for this fine example of Armenian Christian love.
During the last several decades, it has been nearly impossible to see Armen without his photographic equipment as he has literally documented every event at the church for the last 70 years. His house has been the repository of 8mm and 16mm film, slides and still photos that have captured the history of this spirited community. Many families have also used Armen’s talents for family portraits taken at home within a studio environment or with the beautiful flower garden maintained annually by his dear wife Shirley. Professionally, Armen was a successful industrial photographer who produced material for sales catalogs and commercial promotions for companies such as Milton Bradley and Westinghouse.
Tashjian was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on March 29, 1922 as the oldest of three children of Eghishe and Anna Tashjian. His father ran a confection store in the city of Springfield. His parents are universally remembered as humble, loving and devoted servants to the church and community. Armen carried many of their behavioral traits. He graduated from Tech High School and began work as a precision tool maker. After several deferments, Armen joined the Army Air Corps and served his country from 1943 until the end of the war. After the conclusion of the war, with the assistance of the GI Bill, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. While working for Westinghouse, he met his wife Shirley. They were married 57 years until her passing in 2015. Shirley embraced the Indian Orchard community as a Sunday School teacher and member of the Ladies Guild; the community loved her. Armen has always enjoyed playing the piano and was an organist at St. Gregory until a few years ago.
Armen comes from a close and devoted Armenian family. His brother Haig, also a World War II veteran and IBM retiree, is 97 and lives in California. During a recent conversation with his daughter, Haig commented on a Facetime call, “God has blessed us. We wouldn’t have been here if not for our 4’10’’ strong, determined powerhouse of a mother who survived the atrocities and the hardship of genocide. I love you Armen. God bless you now and always.” His loving sister Nancy Sellarole, nearing 92, was a successful realtor in New Jersey and now resides in Delaware. Nancy summed up her older brother beautifully, stating, “Armen is a gentle soul…one of the good guys.” The siblings connect on video calls as often as possible and end each call with a salute and a kiss. Armen has four nieces and nephews: Sandy Tashjian Kalvonjian and her husband Harry; Bruce Tashjian and his wife Beryl; Bonnie Sellarole Inserra; and Theodore Sellarole and his wife Tammy. He is also blessed with eight great nieces/nephews and eight great great nieces/nephews.
The community’s love for Armen stems from a lifetime of selfless devotion to others and a gentle humility to be admired. Armen has a sense of calm that steadies those around him. Parishioners of my generation will recall that Armen would entertain the children during the annual parish meeting with cartoons and short movies so that the parents could participate in the business of the church. He would take pictures of everything in the community and then discreetly gift copies to individuals. When the original church burned in 1966, Armen was the on-site photographer who captured the construction of the new church consecrated in 1968. A skillful and dedicated member of the community, he documented for posterity every phase of the new edifice. Nearly everyone has a picture from Armen of their children in the Christmas program or serving on the altar. His intention has always been to serve others. I worked with Armen on a church anniversary committee several years ago; he took a picture of the cross on the church dome with the sun perfectly aligned, creating a sunburst effect. It was a picture that only someone with the “eye” could take. It was my favorite. A few years later, when we moved from the Orchard community, we were given a framed version of this picture. I cherish it to this day. As the unofficial repository of all visual documentation, Armen would always make his house available to search for a piece of history for special events. His patience and never-ending interest is remarkable. Most of us look at a family album, and it inspires sentimental discussions. Armen’s life work in the parish has been creating the “community album” from which thousands of discussions are enabled. The parish recently created a standing committee to organize this 75 year portfolio and to eventually digitize them for perpetuity. This is one way to honor Armen’s incredible contribution. It will be preserved.
Birthday celebrations are common on a yearly basis for children. As we age, the frequency of these celebrations may wane, but as we enter our senior years, they become an opportunity to admire, honor and cherish the wisdom and contributions of individuals. Such is the case with someone like Armen Tashjian. The emotion on the faces of individuals in attendance expressed the honor they felt to witness such an occasion. God bless Armen on his 100th, and may the Lord continue to grant him good health.