Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Aviator - no not Hughes... Abgarian!

A little article I wrote about a legendary Armenian - Aram Abgarian. Enjoy.

Early Life

Out of Turkey
Aram Abgarian was born in Constantinople, Turkey, on February 4, 1913, and migrated with his family to the United States before his first birthday. The family settled first in Toledo, Ohio and later moved to Detroit where Aram received his primary education at Cass Technical High School.

A love for Aviation - Airplane Model League of America
While in high school, Aram's burning interest in aviation led to his participation in model airplane design and competition, primarily through the auspices of the Airplane Model League of America, or A.M.L.A. which was founded by renowned aviator William Bushnell Stout. The A.M.L.A.'s original purpose was to unite the various boys modeling clubs so that the first national competition could take place. At the first international meet Aram set the world record and won a trip to Europe. Following are William Bushnell Stout's early impressions of young Aram Abgarian: "This model-airplane work, in my opinion, accomplished far more than it has ever been given credit for. It did something to the boys. It taught them fundamentals of airplane design and flying that even Boston Tech failed to get over to many of its graduates. These boys knew what made a plane fly and what gave it performance, and they learned a type of free competition and sportsmanship that I have never seen equaled in any other form of contest. Early in the development work, I put up some prizes for Cass High School contest - $10.00, $5.00 and $2.50 for first, second and third prizes. Finally I designed and made up a trophy of Duralumin. The Stout Trophy is still contested for annually in the national event. One evening when I attended on of these contests in the Cass auditorium, a spirited indoor contest was going on. As I passed a young chap sitting on the stage floor, with his assitant helping him to wind up the rubber bands of his model for the next contest, I gathered that he, one of the smallest of the group, was in line for second place. In the last heat his plane had tied its nearest competitor. Next day, he said, was his mother's birthday and he was doing his best to win the contest so that he could buy her some flowers. By a few extra turns of the rubber bands without breaking them, he managed, this time, to add a few seconds to his plane's flight in the air and won second place. This promising young man was Aram Abgarian, an Armenian. His mother must have given him good backing at home, for he appeared in all contests after that. When we came to our first international meet, the outdoor contests were held at the State Fairgrounds in Detroit. It was a tricky day. Several times the outdoor models got caught in thermals, and even after their propellers stopped turning they were carried on and up and disappeared from sight. According to the rules, the judges counted the time as that in which the model was "in sight". Up to the last night of the outdoor contest, England, Canada and Hawaii had not placed. Our Detroit boys had taken every world's record in the meet. In Aram's event both his plane and the English entrant's model had disappeared from sight. The judges had timed the visible flight of Aram's plane a quarter of a second longer than its English rival's.
Aram standing second from left, with his model case in hand, during the prize trip. London, 1928
On this basis he might have won. The committee came to Aram, however, and explained that as a matter of club sportsmanship they did not think it would be good ethics to deprive the English of a win on so close a margin and on one based merely on the judgement of the timers as to when the models ceased to be visible. The prize was a round trip to Europe with all expenses paid. It was no small thing for a boy to lose. To be a good sport, however, Aram gave up his trip to Europe and allowed the judges, without protest or complaint from him, to award the outdoor contest to England. But he was not through. The next day was the international indoor contest for endurance. Aram had no model ready. Late that night when Aram got home he went to work on the kitchen table with scissors, razor blade, glue, tissue paper and microfilm. His mother made strong coffee and stayed up with him all night to help him keep awake. At ten o'clock the next morning he appeared at the big stock amphitheater in the fairgrounds where the contest was to be held, ready to fly his new model. It weighed a quarter of an ounce complete, stayed in the air for twelve and a half minutes, broke the world's record, and Aram went to Europe after all! This was one of the finest exhibitions of nerve and determination and sportsmanship I have ever heard of in any sport."

William Bushnell Stout "So Away I Went"

Aram meets President Coolidge
On April 2, 1928 the Detroit Free Press reported that Aram, along with 3 other national champions, all from Detroit, put on a demonstration for U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, on the south lawn of The White House. The boys left two of the model planes dangling from the tall poplar trees adjacent to the executive offices, and two landed on the roof of the offices. President Coolidge was reportedly very interested in the mechanism of the models, and wrapped up the event with a photo shoot with the boys. The event was also attended by Representatives Clarence J. McLeod, and Robert H. Clancy of Detroit, and Merril Hamburg, secretary of the Airplane Model League of America. The boys also met, and demonstrated their models for then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, and earlier that day at Bolling Field (now Bolling Air Force Base) to Assistant Secretary of Commerce William P. McCracken, in charge of commercial aviation. George F. Plerrot, managing editor of the American Boy Magazine, accompanied the boys to Washington. Fred L. Black, Advertising Manager of the Ford Motor Company joined the boys, as a personal representative of Edsel Ford, who had provided air transportation for the delegation in a large monoplane.

Aram meets President Hoover
In the spring of 1929, U.S. President Herbert Hoover welcomed to the White House a delegation consisting of Aram Abgarian, then indoor world record holder, William Chaffee, who formerly held that title, Thomas Hill of Winston-Salem, N.C., boy’s outdoor champion, and Ford Grant of Detroit, international champion (who had won a contest with international champions at the Croydon Airdome, in the U.K., July, 1928. They were accompanied by Mitchell V. Charnley of The American Boy’s editorial staff and again by Fred L. Black of Ford Motor Company. This time, the party flew from Detroit to Washington in a giant Ford all-metal tri-motor airplane, again supplied by Edsel Ford himself. The flight took three hours and fifteen minutes, at a time when it took sixteen hours to travel by train. President Hoover recalled meeting the delegation the year before when he was the Secretary of Commerce.

A letter from Admiral Byrd
On June 17, 1928 only weeks prior to his 2 year long first expedition to Antarctica, famed American explorer Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd wrote Aram a personal letter of thanks. Through the offices of Mitchell V. Charnley of The American Boy Magazine, Aram had sent Byrd's young son two airplanes, that happened to be planes that Aram acheived the world record with. Byrd congratulated Abgarian on his accomplishments as well as his workmanship on the planes he sent, and remarked at how much he enjoyed flying the planes with his son. That year Byrd led an expedition to Antarctica that would lead him to become the first person to fly a plane over the South Pole on Nov. 29, 1929.

Education and Career
After graduating from high school, he continued in the experimental engineering field, supplementing his education with classes at the University of Detroit and Wayne State University. In 1933, he married Ella Avedian, and shortly thereafter he began his first venture in business by producing a motor scooter called the "Traveler" from designs and patents he had developed. The success of the venture was halted by World War II, when materials became scarce, and Aram Abgarian turned his attention to the defense effort, working for several local companies.

United Metal Products Corporation
In 1946 Mr. Abgarian founded United Metal Products Corporation, a company that produced sporting goods and parts for the automotive industry. The firm grew substantially during the ensuing years and Mr. Abgarian used his success to contribute to both the Armenian and Civic community until his death on June 20, 1968.

A dream fulfilled
The late Aram Abgarian loved music and he played the piano for his own enjoyment in the privacy of his home. At the time St. John’s Armenian Church in Southfield, MI was being built, Mr. Abgarian expressed a desire to donate a pipe organ to the church. He made an original substantial contribution towards this purpose through the offices of his uncle, Edward Mardigian, president of the Armenian Apostolic Society, the organization charged with the responsibility of building and furnishing the new church.

When the eventual selection of the pipe organ was finalized and the contracts were made, it was learned that the price of the organ was greater than the original estimate. Mr. Abgarian gladly paid the difference, only two weeks prior to his death. The organ project, so dear to his heart, was completed.

The new pipe organ was dedicated in the loving memory of Aram Abgarian on Friday January 22, 1971. Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church, presided over the Holy Badarak, organ dedication and Requiem Service in memory of Aram Abgarian. Mr. Berj Zamkochian was the guest organist, accompanied by the Komitas Choir.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Founder of the Gomidas Organ Fund

A Love for Sacred Music

Berj Zamkochian was appointed as Organist of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops Orchestras when he was 26 years old. That year he signed his first recording contract with RCA Victor Records, and the Gregorian Institute of America Records. Mr. Zamkochian's recordings and concerts throughout the United States, Canada and Europe have earned for him international acclaim. From the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Gallup, New Mexico, he has played dedicatory organ recitals of the foremost organs in the country.

At the 3rd World Congress of Sacred Music, in Paris, Zamkochian was chosen to represent the Organists of the United States. The Gregorian Institute of America has presented Berj Zamkochian in Sacred Music Workshops and Lectures throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 1965 he was given the title of Titular Organist of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy by Pope Paul VI himself.

In September of 1969 he was appointed University Organist in Residence at Boston College, where he inaugurated a series of Organ Recitals at the famed Jesuit School which became a very important part of the Boston Musical Scene.

At the personal invitation of His Holiness, Catholicos Vasken I on December 16, 1970 Berj Zamkochian arrived in Armenia to tour the country and perform concerts. He played 6 concerts in 10 days on the newly installed organs of Yerevan and Etchmiadzin. On December 21st and 26th he played to standing room only audiences at the Yerevan Philharmonia. The newly installed organ was the personal gift of Vasken I to the people of Yerevan. On the evenings of December 27th and 30th Zamkochian appeared as soloist with the Yerevan Philharmonia in the Poulenc Organ Concerto. At the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, Berj Zamkochian served as Organist of the newly installed Cathedral Organ, for the Celebration of the Divine Liturgy. He offered an Organ Recital at the completion of Holy Mass.
The Gomidas Organ Fund

The Gomidas Organ Fund is a project initiated by Berj Zamkochian during the year that marked the 100th Anniversary of the birth of the famed Priest-Composer Gomidas. Its purpose was to supply the Gomidas Conservatory in Yerevan, Armenia, with five practice pipe organs. Donors who purchased one instrument would be entitled to a commemorative memorial practice studio in the Gomidas Conservatory.
Interesting Facts

Former United States President George H. W. Bush and Mr. Zamkochian lived next-door to each other in Kennebunkport, Maine. Berj often recalled that he and the President had long 'over-the-fence' discussions about Armenia, and two issues of importance at the time: The 1988 Earthquake, and the Liberation of Artsakh.

Mr. Zamkochian was sometimes called "The Ambassador of all Armenians".

Notable Requiem Services performed by Mr. Zamkochian include U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Philanthropist Aram Abgarian.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thoughts on Ani being away and giving back to Armenia

As the readers of this blog know our daughter Ani is in Armenia now with my in-laws who have a house in the Arabkir district of Yerevan and she loves it there. Ani is surrounded by neighbors and relatives who visit her on a daily basis, not to mention all the playmates she has acquired. The most important thing to me in this child's first 3 years of life is that she is surrounded by love, the second most important thing is that for the first time in 4 generations my side of the family has produced a native speaker of the Armenian language, I cannot express how important this is to me. My personal joy when I hear her recite Ayb, Ben, Gim or sing Mer Hayastan, is indescribable, it's the ultimate music to my ears. This is what it is all about as you know, for us in the Diaspora to refocus our attention not on ourselves, but back towards our culture, our free and independent motherland which is developing at an impressive rate. Many of our nations benefactors have made it their personal responsibility to contribute very generously and have helped our nation in ways that most of us will only spend our lives dreaming of being able to do.

For my part, I am stuck in a sort of cruel limbo. I acknowledge in my heart that God has clearly spoken to me and told me that I must dedicate my life's work to my nation, and I have not only accepted that, but embraced everything it means to me. I have accepted repatriation as a must, and I now see it as a great honor, and am truly excited about it. However, I simply haven't found the opportunity to make that next chapter in my life open.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tribute to Uncle Edward Mardigian

Well I recently wrote this article on the life of a relative, the late Edward Mardigian, thought I would share here for those interested.

Edward Mardigian (October 25, 1907 - November 3, 1993) was an engineer, Leader, Philanthropist.

Early Life
Edward Mardigian was born in Constantinople on October 25, 1907. He was the youngest of Stephen Mardigian's children, and was only six when he immigrated to the United States. Stephan Mardigian, who had been working as a Butcher in Toledo, OH, saved enough money to bring the family to the United States in October 1914, on the eve of the Armenian Genocide.

Stephen Mardigian's first order of business, once settled was to ensure for his children, the best educational opportunities and benefits that America had to offer, and which had been denied to his people in Turkey. Luckily, an excellent student blossomed in Edward, who couldn't seem to surround himself with enough books to satisfy his thirst for knowledge, particularly for the automotive industry and technology.

Education and Career
Losing his mother at the age of 12 was very difficult for young Edward, but was not enough to slow him down, and by the age of 15 he joined his brothers at the Ford Motor Company, enrolling in the Trade School in Highland Park, MI. He entered the industrial field as a tool and dye designing apprentice student. He graduated in 1928 with excellent marks and was offered a great position with Ford Motor Company in Detroit.

In 1930 Mardigian left Ford Motor Company and joined Chrysler Corporation, which allowed him to attend night classes at the Detroit Institute of Technology and Wayne State University, where he soon would earn the equivalent of a high school diploma and the training of a mechanical engineer.

By 1933 he had the knowledge, education and passion to begin an exciting and successful career. In that year, Mardigian accepted the position of Assistant Chief Tool Designer with Briggs Manufacturing Corporation. In 1934 Briggs sent Mardigian to London, England to supervise the first major tooling program at their Dagenham plant, and in 1936 he returned to the United States to head up the process and estimating department, which he would lead through the difficult and early part of the second World War.

Mardigian left Briggs in 1943 and formed a tool and die company called Oakman Engineering Co., and the following year bought a major stake in Northern Engineering Co. These two companies would later enter the production realm and become known as the Mardigian Corporation.

Edward Mardigian is survived by his wife, Helen and family. He was the Uncle of Philanthropist Aram Abgarian.

Armenian Community
In 1984 Mr. Mardigian helped assure the future of the then forming Armenian Assembly of America by making a contribution to that organizations endowment fund. Helen Mardigian is a life Trustee of the Armenian Assembly of America.
Armenian Church

The Helen and Edward Mardigian Institute is a highly successful training program for educators, particularly for Sunday School teachers without a professional education background. The program helps them reach out to children by providing on-going training, inspiration, and encouragement free of charge to local Sunday School staffs across the Eastern Diocese. The program takes place bi-annually at the Diocesan Center in New York City and at the St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.

The Mardigian Institute was founded in 1978 and has trained more than 350 Sunday School educators. The program is organized by the staff of the Diocese’s Department of Youth and takes small groups of around 10 students at a time for 1 week courses which include demonstrations, lectures and discussions of Christian faith.

Along with Alex and Marie Manoogian, Edward and Helen Mardigian were major benefactors of St. John’s Armenian Church in Southfield, MI.

In 1987, Helen and Edward Mardigian donated $500,000 to the Armenian Research Center endowment and $350,000 to an endowment for the campus library. Pleased with the work of the Armenian Research Center and with the generosity of the Mardigians towards the University, which has extended beyond their original contributions, the then Chancellor of the Dearborn campus, William A. Jenkins, recommended to the President of The University of Michigan, at that time Harold Shapiro, that the University name the campus library the Edward and Helen Mardigian Library. This the Regents did the following year.

The University of Michigan In 1996, a $3 million gift from the Mardigian Foundation in honor of the late Detroit-area industrialist and philanthropist Edward Mardigian and his wife, Helen, helped in the construction of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center and Geriatrics Center Building. In recognition of the family foundation’s generosity, the building’s lobby was named the Edward Mardigian Memorial Lobby. “We have always believed in sharing,” Helen Mardigian said in announcing the gift. “We have always wanted to do something for the Hospital. Edward would be very pleased.”

The Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital Funded by a $1 million donation from the Edward Mardigian Family, the Mardigian Family Surgery Center at the Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital provides a comfortable and bright waiting area for family members, flooded with the warmth of daylight from the skylights above. The area features a children’s playroom and a business center with computer access and health care information. To enhance patient privacy, coaster pagers, similar to those used in restaurants, summon waiting family members to the postsurgery consultation with the surgeon.
Location of the Edward and Helen Mardigian Museum of Armenian Art and History in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

Art, Culture and History
Opened in 1979, the Edward and Helen Mardigian Museum of Armenian Art and History of Jerusalem is located in a 200-year-old building that once housed the Armenian Patriarchate’s Theological Seminary, The Mardigian Museum of Armenian Art and Culture present a picturesque overview of Armenian history, religion and cultural heritage.

Exhibits include historical and religious artifacts, many brought to Jerusalem by pilgrims, including hand-woven rugs, a collection of Armenian coins, huge copper cauldrons crafted by Armenian smiths, colorful tiles from the world-famous Kutayha district, and a map of the ancient world printed in Armenian. There is also a replica of Gutenberg`s original printing press, the first to be established in Jerusalem in 1833.

The Armenian Students' Association of America awarded Mr. Mardigian the Sarafian Award for Good Citizenship in 1986.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Helen Mardigian has passed away

It is with great sadness that I have learned of the passing of Aunt Helen Mardigian. I was fortunate enough to have spent some time visiting with her at home and speaking with her by phone several months ago and I can honestly say she was one of a kind. It's hard to grasp everything that her and Uncle Eddie have done not only for Armenians but for Michiganders as well, but I can tell you they were very kind, caring and generous people. Aunt Helen will be missed but I have fond memories to hold on to. Astvats Hokin Lusavor

Friday, March 26, 2010

On the 30th anniversary of the passing of Rafik Ordyan by Minas Kojayian

Rafik Ordyan’s Enduring Odyssey
The GT-77 Race Car

Every time I reminisce about blooming Hollywood stars of the past, such as James Dean, I come face to face with the highly talented artist and clown who passed away before his prime, circus star of Armenia and the former Soviet Union, the late Leonid Yengibarian. I also remember an extraordinary and uniquely gifted young man from my university years in Armenia, automotive pioneer, inventor and designer Rafik Ordyan.

Rafik would have turned 61 years old this year had the medical world taken his heart condition more seriously. Having departed from this world at the tender age of 30, Rafik’s love, determination and creative talents in the field of automotive design could have earned him a well-deserved place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

In the 18th century, Rafik’s forefathers emigrated from the city of Ordubad in the Nakhijevan region to Armenia’s northeastern province of Tavush and the village of Aygedzor. Young Rafik’s keen interest in the sciences and creative arts became a driving force in his persistent efforts to gain knowledge of mechanical engineering in both the Armenian and Russian languages. In the eighth grade, with the use of objects found at home, Rafik had already created an FM radio transmitter in the compact size of a cigarette box.

At the age of 14, upon reading about a hand-crafted model truck in the Russian-language monthly journal Young Designer, Rafik vows to create his own model vehicle. Upon graduation from high school, Rafik is accepted by the cybernetics department of Yerevan’s Polytechnic University. Prior to his enrollment exams, however, Rafik had already designed and built his first automobile, and Armenia’s first ever convertible car.

Rafik was a special student. During his university years, Rafik’s interest in the field of physics propelled him to dream of defending his Master of Science thesis in the physics “capital” of the Soviet Union, the city of Dubna. During his graduating year at the university, he devotes himself to the initial preparation of a blueprint for his dream car. Rafik’s hard work and tenacity in building his dream car comes to fruition six years later.

Rafik the inventor had to start everything from scratch. During the process of building his famous GT-77 race car, Rafik’s hands as well as personal connections were put to good use in his quest to find accurate automotive parts. Despite working for the Transportation Ministry of the USSR, Rafik spent his non-working hours at the ministry by going through great lengths to find, inspect, modify, and incorporate correct and dependable automotive parts for his GT-77. When interviewed, Rafik stated that he had “one purpose… to create a contemporary and unique automobile, which would be distinctly different than any other automobile.” Specifically, Rafik incorporated a Skoda 1202 47HP engine manufactured in Czechoslovakia, and a Moskvich 412 gearbox. In June 1977, all of Yerevan was raving about Rafik Ordyan’s orange GT-77 race car.

August 6, 1977 was a special day in the life of Rafik Ordyan. The USSR’s Grand Prix was set to begin in Moscow. Over 2000 automobiles and their drivers, including Rafik and his GT-77, participated in this event. A number of scholarly journals and publications throughout the Soviet Union, in addition to prominent scientific institutions, the Zaporozhets factory in Ukraine and the YERAZ factory (Yerevan Automotive Factory) in the Kanaker district of Yerevan all expressed serious interest in Rafik’s creative prowess. The Grand Prix commenced in Moscow’s Gorky Park, en route 2500 miles to the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea. Among 2000 participants, Rafik Ordyan became the champion of the Grand Prix, earning several accolades and worthy attention throughout the Soviet Union, and bringing pride to his native Armenia. Thanks to Soviet newspapers and television, over 250 million people familiarized themselves with the young Armenian inventor and his “baby”, the GT-77.

Rafik was a rising star with a promising future ahead of him, who would have brought pride to any nation. Sadly, his life was cut short at the age of 30, due to a heart condition which could have been properly treated had he undergone the correct medical procedures. Rafik Ordyan passed away on May 31, 1979 in Moscow.

The Armenian nation never forgot her native son. Due to the efforts of Rafik’s friends and admirers, the annual Ordyan Prize was established in recognition of an inventor who has built the best automobile by hand. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Rafik’s passing, a decision was made by the Ordyan family to restore the GT-77 race car, in addition to publicly exhibiting a collection of Rafik’s photographs, trophies and medals, letters, and the designs of his automobiles.

Written by Minas Kojayan
Translated from Western Armenian by Mihran Toumajan

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rafik Ordyan garage restoration progressing

Beginning in May of 2009, as part of the events commemorating the 30th year since the passing of 1977 Soviet Grand Prix winner Rafik Ordyan, volunteers from the United States as well as Armenia undertook a project to renovate the Rafik Ordyan garage in Yerevan. The garage serves as the current storage location for the handcrafted GT-77, and had a leaky roof, dirt floor and holes in the garage door. The project elements included leveling the ground and installing a 10cm thick (5cm is standard in Armenia) concrete garage floor, a brand new custom garage door, a new concrete roof with weather shield and a much needed ventilation duct, and infrastructure to allow the addition of electricity in a later phase of the project. The project's early steps have been completed including the door and floor and sealing of the inside of the garage (to reduce moisture levels and mold which are very harmful to the vehicle). The first layer of the roof has been completed and is waiting for the weather sealant to be applied so that another layer of cement can be added on top.

We will keep you posted as our work progresses. Thank you for your support!