FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Hundreds of campers, counselors, staff, alumni and community members gathered at Gillette Stadium’s Putnam Club on Saturday evening to celebrate the 70th anniversary of AYF Camp Haiastan.
The evening began with a cocktail hour featuring a slideshow of past and present camp photos. Passed hors d’oeuvres and drinks were the backdrop of this unique family reunion.
The dining room was decorated with the camp’s new logo. Dinner included carving stations, pasta and salad stations, a very popular kids station and a surprise camp recipe: pilaf. As dinner music played in the background, the room was filled with friends catching up and sharing stories of their favorite camp memories. Among the attendees were four 1951 charter members—Shooshig (DerManuelian) Aghjayan, Barbara (Goshgarian) Berberian, Dorothy Melikian and Sylvia Simonian. There were also several three-generation legacy families—Alashaians, Alemians, Almasians, Altoonians, Apigians, Asbedians, Berberians, Boyajians, Dagdigians, Gharibians, Kaligians, Kushigians, Mangasarians, Manuelians, Papazians and Sogoians. Margo and Arev Dinkjian arrived from New Jersey as the only parent-child duo to have served as summer directors. Former executive and summer directors and Board of Directors members were also in attendance.
Sarine Adishian, a former camper, staff member and summer director and now a current Board of Directors member, served as the Mistress of Ceremonies. The program began with a quick round of losh kebab pickers—a camper favorite at early morning exercises—and continued with a blessing from Reverend Father Mikael Der Kosrofian of St. Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church of Whitinsville. Reminiscing on the variations of ice cream outings, bug juice and campouts that have been staples in over seven decades of Camp Haiastan, it was clear by the reactions that each guest in the room had their unique memories of what so many consider the “best place on earth.” While much has changed, the camaraderie that camp has given so many remains the same.
The first speaker of the night was Camp Haiastan’s current executive director, Kenar Charchaflian. Charchaflian is a former camper and staff member who shows her love for camp and the Armenian community through her unyielding dedication and work ethic. In her first public appearance as executive director after two years in this role, Charchaflian remarked not on the pandemic that closed the gates of camp, but on the community and volunteers who worked tirelessly to ensure they would open again as soon and as safely as possible. She also acknowledged those who made it possible for over 200 campers to experience a form of camp through “Camp Zoomastan” during such a difficult summer. Charchaflian also discussed the many improvements the camp has seen over the years and this year’s milestones, including a record number of Teen Session campers and a sold-out first session.
The program continued with Hratch Najarian, chairman of Camp Haiastan’s Board of Directors. Najarian has been serving on the Board of Directors for five years and is in his second year as chairman. His message to the guests was simple: pay it forward. He reminded those in the room that AYF Camp Haiastan and those who built it had a clear vision which has proven itself time and time again. It is now time to not only continue to support the camp, but also to encourage others to do the same. They will walk away with “more than what they could have imagined,” said Najarian.
Najarian proceeded to announce the recipients of the first ever Forever Tornig award, recognizing individuals for their lifelong commitment to Camp Haiastan. Each of the honorees began their relationship with AYF Camp Haiastan as campers, proceeded to work as staff members, served a tenure on the camp’s Board of Directors and continue until today to volunteer their time toward the betterment of camp. Each honoree shared heartwarming memories of their days at camp as well as lessons learned throughout their experiences.
Peter Jelalian of New Jersey served as summer director many times and continues to be a resource for incoming directors. He is also currently serving on the camp’s recruitment committee.
Richard Krikorian, also of New Jersey, helped to establish the camp’s current endowment and investment strategies and continues to serve on the camp’s finance and investment committee.
John Mangassarian of Rhode Island is always willing to lend a hand and can be found at camp multiple times a week, ensuring the grounds are well-maintained.
A surprise honoree was also announced that evening — Muriel “Mimi” Parseghian. Like her fellow honorees, Parseghian is a lifelong supporter of the camp; she was a former summer director and served on the board on multiple occasions, including on the current body. The dedication of the honorees is appreciated by all who love camp and serve as examples to current and future generations of campers, staff and supporters.
Mike Bahtiarian (also known as Unger Nature Hike Mike) serves on the Board of Directors and chair of the infrastructure committee. He approached the stage to give an update on the current and upcoming projects at AYF Camp Haiastan. The featured projects included a two-phase upgrade, redesign and rebuild of the kitchen and mess hall, aesthetic improvements to the Cabin Circle and an expansion/replacement of the Under the Trees area. The Cabin Circle repairs will include improving the landscaping, grass coverage and walking paths, as well as adding new seating and lighting. The Under the Trees area, where campers gather multiple times a day, was originally constructed in 1982 and dedicated to Vaghinag Koroghlian. The new concept will include expanded seating for 150 people in two sections, new lighting and retaining walls. The project will be dedicated to the late Mark Alashaian, who could be found Under the Trees on any given Sunday during the camp season. Bahtiarian concluded his presentation by sharing the fundraising goals and overall plans of the infrastructure committee.
These projects, set to be completed for the 2023 summer season, have a target fundraising goal of $1.5 million. The anniversary gala provided a wonderful opportunity to launch the campaign, which raised just over $400,000 in one night. The community can still show its support and dedication to the camp by donating online. Donations can also be mailed to the camp office (PO Box C, Franklin, MA 02038).
The second raffle drawing also took place during the program. Charchaflian, who is also sometimes known as the “raffle girl,” returned to the podium to conduct the drawing. The winners were Laurie and Thomas Christopher from New Jersey.
Adishian concluded the program by remembering those who came before us with the vision to create “a little Armenia in Franklin” and reminding those in the room of their responsibility to “continue the positive impact of camp.”
The evening concluded with musical performances by Michael Gostanian, Mal Barsamian, Richie Berberian, Bruce Gigarjian, Paul Mooradian and Ron Tutunjian. Guests danced the night away with old and new friends.
Guests are invited to email photos from the evening to email@example.com.