An Ode to Baron Sarkis Panossian: Armenian Teacher and Legend

Sarkis Panossian 1a
Beloved educator Sarkis Panossian

Beloved educator Sarkis Panossian

BY MEGHEDI MELODY NAZARIAN

Legends never die. That’s what one of my friends wrote in a group chat that ignited last Wednesday night when we found out that our beloved Armenian teacher, Baron Sarkis Panossian, was on his death bed with his days numbered. Baron, as we endearingly call him, was an Armenian history teacher at KZV Armenian school in San Francisco from 1987 to 2002. But he was more than just a teacher to us. He was more like a father and friend and a guru all rolled into one. He was a legend that taught us so much about life, about friendship. And though he took his last breath on Thursday, March 14, 2019 at the age of 85, Baron’s wisdom will carry on inside each of his hundreds of students until their last breaths.

Baron was born in Lebanon on December 31, 1934 and migrated to America with his wife Nartouhy in 1987, the same year he joined KZV.

One of his favorite sayings that he would drill into our heads was “oorishin kordzuh kezi inch.” We were only in middle school, perhaps too young and stubborn to fully appreciate it, but today we all understand the importance of his advice. It’s quite simple: mind your own business. Advice everyone can live by, especially in today’s social media-crazed society, which encourages the exact opposite.

Just one day I recall Baron going against his own advice, and for good reason, when he meddled into my business in the 7th grade. My classmate-slash-best friend and I had been fighting for over a week — I can’t recall what the drama was about, but we had stopped talking entirely. Noticing this animosity between his students, the attentive and caring Baron took it upon himself to mediate. He spent an entire class period making sure that my best friend and I were good again. I can still feel him taking our hands in each of his and making us hug it out. Years later it hit me how selfless and meaningful it was what he did for two young friends. He was a truly wise man who realized that there is no learning if we can’t first learn to be kind to our fellow classmates. The greater lesson is to be good even after we graduate and embark on life’s journey. This is just one story. Ask any of his students and they will have many Baron learning moments to share. Just in the last week, the stories and memories have poured out like a waterfall between my group of childhood friends who all owe KZV for our everlasting bond.

Baron was a caring educator. He felt deeply for his students, even beyond the classroom. I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but one day he greeted me with a funny and fitting nickname: Potorig, which means tornado in Armenian. It’s like he knew me even before I knew myself. Baron had a unique way of feeling connected to his pupils. So much so that he would often invite his students to visit him in Fresno, where he settled after retirement in 2002. I’m thankful I got to go see him in his home. My only regret is that I only visited once.

When we graduated KZV and moved on with our lives, we would often see Baron at community events, where he would always take the time to ask us how we were. Then he would grab our wrists tightly, look into your eyes with his baby blues, and offer fitting advice, usually in one sentence. To his unmarried students he would always advise, half serious, half jokingly: “chooruh daktzoor,” as in boil the water, make things happen. Then we would have a good laugh and hope that the next time we saw him we would miraculously be betrothed. We always wanted to make him proud, even when he wasn’t teaching us inside the classroom.

Aside from being an Armenian teacher, Baron was also director for the KZV choir, Djeboor. He is responsible for teaching us many Armenian songs, the most memorable being “Kedashen.” His dedication and passion for music was infectious. He taught us the importance of music as a form of discipline and art. Envisioning his short arms waving up and down and side to side brings warmth to my soul until today. He also taught us the importance of language, poetry, and writing through the newsletter he established called Gamourch.

What made Baron special was that he was the perfect mix of professional and friendly. To convey that, a saying he often used was “ashagerduh yev oosootzichuh yergatooghi kidzeroo bes en. Yerpek shad chen modenar, yerpek shad chen heranar,” which means a teacher and student are like railroad tracks; they never get too close or too far. We respected him and feared his discipline, yet felt fondness and closeness all at the same time.

After Baron retired, he continued his love of writing and spreading his Armenian culture by contributing to Asbarez for over a decade. Side note: I have to take a moment to apologize to Baron for not writing this article in Armenian. I know he would have shaken his head, but then he would offer up a mischievous smile to let me know that he’s proud nonetheless. He was a humanist. He got people. He got life.

Before Baron took his final breath, he left us with more wisdom as Baron always did: that we should live our lives as role models for all future generations. And he truly practiced what he preached throughout his entire life and career. The conversations around the time of his death have taught me a very important lesson: to live your life in such a way that when you die, all they can talk about is all the good you contributed to your community and the world. I don’t know one person who can say anything negative about Baron. That’s a legacy to strive for.

To many of his students, Baron was invincible. I thought he would live forever. But he will live forever in our hearts because legends never die.

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