Congresswoman Jackie Speier and San Francisco Mayor London Breed also present
SAN FRANCISCO—The Krouzian-Zekarian Vasbouragan School welcomed Golden State Warriors basketball team head coach, Steve Kerr, as its honored guest at the school’s 38th annual gala, which took place on February 9 at the at the Khatchaturian Armenian Community Center’s Saroyan Hall.
Kerr’s grandparents, the late Dr. Stanley E. Kerr and Elsa Reckman Kerr were instrumental in the work of the Near East Relief foundation, the unprecedented American campaign of international humanitarian assistance which saved and sustained hundreds of thousands of Armenian Genocide survivors from 1915-1930.
Accepting an award of recognition for the contributions of the Kerr family to the Armenian people, Steve Kerr thanked the community, saying, “This is truly humbling to stand here.” Attending the event with his mother, Ann, wife, Margot, and two of his three children, Nick and Maddie, Kerr said of the presence of his children, “It was great for them to learn more about the story and be part of it and see the respect from the Armenian community and really understand the impact that their grandparents made. It made me very proud to see them understand it and feel it. It was a great night.”
“The sacrifice that Stanley and Elsa Kerr made during the Armenian Genocide is greatly appreciated by the Armenian community,” said KZV’s principal, Grace Andonian. “One hundred years after the Armenian Genocide, KZV is an example of the vibrant Armenian community that thrives around the world.”
The evening’s master of ceremonies, Sevag Sarkissian, discussed the importance of the legacy of the Kerrs’ selfless aid to Armenians. “They delivered a second chance, in the hope that Armenian family names would ring for generations to come until this very day. We owe it to our ancestors, to our heroes and warriors, like Stanley and Elsa Kerr, to our KZV founders and generous benefactors, and to each other, that we make the most of our second chance. We survived, we’re still here, and KZV is our way of saying thank you to all those who came before. It’s our way of keeping the promise that we will not forget where we came from, who we are and why we are here.”
Rep. Jackie Speier, who is half Armenian and leads the Congressional Caucus on Armenian-American Issues, was also present with her husband, Barry, to congratulate KZV school and pay honor to the Kerr family.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed also attended the gala, and praised KZV’s administration and supporters for “the work that you continue to do to make sure that the next generation of young people get the best education, a diverse education, and multi-lingual education, one that is going to send them out into the world and try to mimic the spirit of what Stanley and Elsa Kerr did for so many people, so long ago.”
The Kerr Legacy
Filmmaker Ani Hovannisian-Kevorkian, who is currently doing research about the Kerrs for a documentary, showed a video giving an overview of the Kerrs public service, particularly to the Armenian people.
“This is a monumental story; A century of sacrifice without borders that starts in Marash, but goes far beyond. First, with Stanley and Elsa, a young man and woman who left safety at home to cross the globe into a den of danger in order to help genocide-ravaged people in the Ottoman Empire, Armenians. That’s where they met and spent their entire life in service of others.”
In 1919, Stanley Kerr, a junior officer with the United States Medical Corps, was transferred to Marash, Turkey, where he headed the American relief operations and assisted thousands of Armenians threatened with further genocide by the Turkish government after the French military retreated from its post-war occupation of the city. Kerr met his wife, Elsa, in Marash, where she had moved from the United States and was working as a schoolteacher. They later married in Beirut, Lebanon and together ran a Near East Relief orphanage for Armenian children.
Kerr later earned a Ph.D in biochemistry and became the chair of the biology department at the American University of Beirut. Else became the university’s dean of women. Stanley Kerr retired with the rank of Distinguished Professor and was awarded the Order of Merit from the Republic of Lebanon. He passed away in 1976 and left as part of his legacy, The Lions of Marash: Personal Experiences with American Near East Relief, 1919-1922 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1973), a memoir documenting his eye-witness accounts of the Armenian Genocide.
The legacy of Dr. Stanley and Elsa Kerr was passed down to their children and grandchildren, who have continued to live by the humanitarian values of their parents and grandparents. Their oldest son was the late Malcolm H. Kerr, who became President of the American University of Beirut, but was tragically assassinated in 1984. Malcolm and his wife Ann Zwicker Kerr had four children, including Coach Steve Kerr and his older brother John Kerr, who serves on the board of the Near East Foundation. Malcolm’s daughter, Susan van de Ven, used letters from her grandparents as the basis of her thesis at Oberlin College, later presenting it at the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem on the occasion of the 1986 commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
San Jose State University President, Dr. Mary Papazian, spoke about the legacy of Stanley and Elsa Kerr on subsequent generations of Armenians and her personal life. She recalled a moment from her youth when the Kerrs visited Ferrahian Armenian High School on the occasion of the publication of Stanley Kerr’s book. She also mentioned that during her inauguration as President of San Jose State University, she brought an exhibit about the Near East Relief foundation to the campus.
Established in 1980, KZV is Northern California’s only Armenian day school, founded with a mission to prepare its students to become leaders rooted with a deep awareness of their role as Armenian-Americans.
The school’s founding donor was George (Krikor) Krouzian, an Armenian Genocide survivor from Van, Turkey, who escaped, immigrated to San Francisco, became a pharmacist and philanthropist, and was honored by the global leader of the Armenian church and by President Clinton.
Serving approximately 120 students from preschool through 8th grade, KZV provides a fully-accredited academic program. Two thirds of KZV students score in the top 25% on standardized tests, and 98% of students score above the 50th percentile.