LOS ANGELES–The 90th birthday celebration for Dr. John Markarian, given by the Haigazian University Women’s Auxiliary on June 10 at the Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, was a time of reunion, rejoicing, and remembering. Alumni, and friends came from far and wide to honor this man who was their mentor, and in many instances, facilitator.
A festive atmosphere was created with Dr. Markarian joyfully greeting friends he had not seen for many years. Living now in W. Pittson, Penn. with his wife Inge, he has been somewhat isolated from the Armenian community he once thrived in. His health is astounding for a man of his age. He still plays tennis and golf each week–many times beating younger players. Each person greeting Dr. Markarian was immediately transported– discussing their time at Haigazian–and recalling fond memories with him as their unique President.
When Dr. Markarian spoke, it was quintessential Markarian. He referred to how we should not erect barriers in this world, but build bridges of understanding. This is exactly what he accomplished in Beirut for years, interacting with the various religious and ethnic groups. He fondly spoke of the two permanent residents of the school, one a janitor, and the other a blind man. You could feel the audience identify with his reflections about the two men.
To honor him for his 16 years as the Founding President of Haigazian University in Lebanon– much of it during the difficult war years– a scholarship fund in his name has been established by generous donors and the Women’s Auxiliary. Past students, teachers and acquaintances came to respect their President and friend. Ara Hovanessian, an alumnus who came from Canada for the celebration, is establishing a $25,000 scholarship fund in gratitude to Dr. Markarian for his mentoring and support while at Haigazian.
Champagne accompanied the birthday cake as the happy crowd sang “Happy Birthday”. Guests mingled long after the party concluded renewing former friendships.
Participants in the program included: President, Dr. John Markarian, Past President, Dr. John Khanjian, M.C. Dr. Vahe Simonian, alumnus and Lark Musical Society Director, Vatsche Barsoumian, Haigazian University Board President, Herair Mouradian, alumnus Raffi Kenderjian, colleague Rev. Romaine Swedenberg, daughter Joanne Markarian, wife, Inge Markarian, Women’s Auxiliary President, Joyce Stein, and Flutist, Salpy Kerkonian with her string ensemble,
Speech by Dr. John Khanjian During the Birthday Celebration
Wishes are cheap and dreams are easy, but to realize a vision takes wisdom, patience and courage. During my tenure at Haigazian University, I often wondered as to whether the founding visionaries knew what it takes to maintain an institution of higher learning!
In the fall of 1955 Dr. John Markarian took charge of the Haigazian vision and under his able and enthusiastic administration the College was on its way. A vision should open new vistas; it should remain on the horizon and not be confined to a rigid plan which controls the development of the institution. Haigazian College which started as a junior college to prepare teachers and pastors for the Armenian institutions soon transcended its initial purpose and began to offer other majors to a diverse student body. Dr. Markarian was able to lead this transition with firmness and grace.
To convince the Boards and constituencies of this change a person needs the Wisdom of Solomon, one who could listen to divergent opinions and yet keep his hand on the helm and his eyes fixed on the future and steer the college into its future. A good leader steers the course and not stays the course!
Patiently Markarian kept the College going through out the turbulent War years of Lebanon. The sight of his bombed and blackened office could not force him to pack his bags and leave. He stayed in Beirut and continued to negotiate with the various political entities, wining their confidence and support. He kept the College going while at the same time providing much needed help to the thousands of displaced refugees. The Marakrians, Inga and John, faced a formidable task trying to help the 1000 refugees who poured into their three square block area. The cafeteria of the College became the soup kitchen for the refugees. Dr. Mrs. Markarian secured funds to buy and distribute food, clothing, and bedding to the refugees. Eventually their help extended to 20,000 people.
In addition to demonstrating wisdom and patience John had courage to settle differences between boards and constituencies, to secure funds, and to appease the political and military leaders of the war. With his natural enthusiasm and genuine humane approach he won the confidence, respect and love of most people that he came in contact with. The name of Haigazian College and Markarian are fused and remain embedded in the hearts and minds of the Haigazian community and the Lebanese people.
John was a happy person; he always had a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. He was happy because he did not live by his repressive impulses of fear, cruelty, and jealousy. Instead, he lived by his expansive impulses of hope, constructiveness, affection, and intellectual curiosity. Thus we are gathered to celebrate years of fruitful and loving service. Happy Birth Day John.