FRESNO—The Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School has accepted a $100,000 donation from the estate of Dick Avakian. The sum is among the largest ever given to the school.
Avakian, who passed away in January of this year, was best known as the long-time owner of Dick’s Menswear and Shoes. Along with selling clothing, footwear, and hats, his Chinatown shop served as the gathering place for his friends and acquaintances, which included a who’s who of local politicians, officials, and educators.
The donation to the school would not have been possible without the efforts of Der Hayr Hrant Serabian of the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, who has championed the cause of the Armenian Community School since the early 1980s. As a friend, Fr. Serabian frequently spoke with Avakian at his store and after his retirement from business in 2003.
“One morning, about a year before he passed away, he said ‘I have a secret for you. I’m leaving $100,000 for your church and $100,000 for the school.’ I was very happy for our church, but so happy for the second gift, too, because the school is something that concerns me very much… it is in my heart,” said Fr. Serbian.
“He was a very wise man, very knowledgeable. Sometimes, I used to argue with him. I’d explain ‘Dick, if future generations of Armenians can’t speak the language, your [last name] and my name will be lost.’ The church and the school are our two main sources that keep us strong. God bless his soul.”
In 1945, Avakian took over his father’s shoemaking, which was established 30 years earlier, and broadened his line of goods to men’s apparel. Avakian’s impromptu forums and personality made him and his business a favorite topic of the Fresno Bee. Bee staff writer Jim Guy wrote after Avakian’s death:
“You never knew who you might meet in Dick’s Menswear & Shoes in Chinatown—congressmen, fire chiefs, farmers or perhaps William Saroyan. But you could be sure that Dick Avakian would be there, holding forth at the center of a lively conversation.”
Avakian’s connections with the city and county governments were sometime more than just social. Fr. Serabian, who served as pastor at Holy Trinity from 1980 to 1993, recalls Avakian telling him that he was too young and valuable to retire. A few phone calls later and at Avakian’s insistence, Fr. Serabian became a social worker for the Fresno County Social Services Department, a position he held for 10 years.
To commemorate Avakian’s contribution, a memorial tile will be placed on it’s the school’s of donors. Additionally, CKACS chairman Ara Karkazian said the school’s board of education is considering setting funds aside each year to establish an annual Dick Avakian scholarship for excellence in academics.