BY BARBARA ANDERSON
From The Fresno Bee
Richard Darmanian isn’t one to talk much about himself.
"Humble" is the universal description for the Fresno Armenian-American leader. But on Sunday–people inside the Radisson Hotel had other adjectives for the man and his 50 years of service to the community.
"I respect him–and I believe everyone [here] does," says Raffi Santikian–a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation who has known Darmanian for years.
Margaret Gregory describes Darmanian as "modest and honest." Darmanian–the first principal and founding member of the Armenian Community School of Fresno–hired Gregory in 1976. Gregory continues to work as secretary at the 100-pupil school.
Darmanian–75–doesn’t talk about his role in starting the school or his years as a leader in the Armenian National Committee of Central California–a grass-roots political organization that represents the interests of Armenian-Americans. He served as director from 1988 to 1996.
He doesn’t reminisce about joining the Armenian Cultural Foundation in 1950 or the several terms he served on the regional executive committee and the central executive committee. Or the years he served as regional secretary for the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia.
He doesn’t take credit for service on the American Community Council of the San Joaquin Valley or for leading the April 24 Commemorative Committee to recognize the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire during the years 1915-1923.
During a brief conversation before being honored by the Armenian National Committee of Central California on Sunday–he focuses on the importance of teaching Armenian-American children their heritage and the Armenian language.
"I think the ethnic community continues to lose contact with their ethnic background and their culture," he says–stopping to shake a hand or nod and wave at people as they greet him on their way into the hotel.
Darmanian learned about his heritage from his mother and father–both of whom were Armenian immigran’s. His father–Harry Darmanian–arrived in the United States in 1915; his mother–Rose Darmanian–in 1922. The couple moved their family from Sacramento to the Fresno area in 1936. Richard Darmanian was 10.
His father’s entire family died in the Armenian town of Moosh in 1918. His mother’s father survived the genocide by pretending to convert to the Islamic religion–while in fact–he was helping Armenian revolutionaries. "During the genocide–he saved countless numbers of Armenian families," Darmanian says.
"Our parents were storytellers," says Darmanian’s older sister–Norma "Nuyen" Katzakian–a retired teacher from Sacramento. "I knew all those stories [about Armenia] before I knew about the ‘Three Bears.’ "Her brother has kept alive what their parents instilled in them–she says.
Darmanian taught history to Fresno students for years. It was a way to share his passion for storytelling–he says. He began teaching history and government at Roosevelt High School in 1952–before serving as a counselor and dean of boys. He was assistant principal at Edison High in 1969 and principal in 1972–and then moved to Hoover High as principal in 1979. Before retiring in 1988–he was district administrator in the division of instruction.
"History is a story–and it’s about people," he says. "You can read history and you get a feel for what’s going on today."
Darmanian’s admirers Sunday included Sen. Chuck Poochigian–R-Fresno–who grew up on a farm near Darmanian in the Lone Star area outside Sanger. Other dignitaries in the crowd: Fresno Mayor Alan Autry–Fresno County Supervisor Bob Waterston and Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Peter G. Mehas.
"I have tremendous respect for him–nationally as a leader in the Armenian community and for his community involvement in general," Poochigian says. "He just exudes integrity and character."
Darmanian’s family says their patriarch is most proud of his six children and seven grandchildren. "He’s always been proud of his family," says daughter Christine Darmanian–a Fresno hospital administrator.
Of all the kind words said about him Sunday–Darmanian would likely be happiest with the commen’s of his grandchildren–who came to share his day.
He’s a fun grandpa–the seven agree.
"He taught me how to drive a tractor," says Justine Darmanian–12.