Armenian Community School of Fresno Celebrates Its History


Back row, left to right: Ed Megerdechian, Vartkes Messerlian, John Hovannisian, John Toomasian, Principal Sophie Mekhitarian, Principal Seth Atamian, Mher Chekerdemian; seated, left to right: Vars Hovannisian, Principal Rosie Bedrosian, Yeretzgin Anoush Yaralian, Barbara Kevorkian Mortanian, and Serpouhie Messerlian. Photos of Charlie Keyan (left) and Der Hayr Yaralian (right) in background.

FRESNO—The Charlie Keyan Armenian Community School’s Friends and Founders Day brought together more the 80 community members at Hovannisian Hall to pay tribute to former principals, long-time patrons, and the families of the original board of directors that established the Armenian Community School in 1977.

CKACS parent and emcee Hriar Messerlian opened the program by recalling the past generations of the century old Fresno Armenian Community and the school’s namesake Charlie Keyan. Putting the school’s greater purpose in historical perspective, he stated:

“This is where the magic happens. This is where the community is built. This is where future generations are put together… This is a root of the whole community.”

Messerlian then introduced CKACS Board Chairman Ara Karkazian who acknowledged the current board, former supporters, as well as friend and former board chairman Jerry Kutumian, who led the effort to construct the school’s facility in Clovis. Reflecting on the initiative and commitment of the school’s founders, he remarked “these people didn’t worry about whether it was going to work or not. It was their attitude that ‘we will make it work.’”

Principal Sophie Mekhitarian thanked the school’s founders “for the legacy that we today enjoy at this school”, recognizing the Vartkes and Serpouhie Messerlian families, John Toomasian, the Richard Darmanian family, the Anne Kevorkian family, the late Reverend Harry Misserlian, Mher Chekerdemian and family, Ed Megerdechian and family, the Sarkis and Haig Sahadtjian families as well as matriarch Makrouhi (Mary) Sahatdjian, and the Kaspar and Siroon Hovannisian family. Mekhitarian also acknowledged the school’s teachers and numerous volunteers.

After a presentation by former board member Raffi Santikian and Armenian Community School alumnus Shaunt Yemenjian for plans to construct a commemorative flag pole, the audience heard from the members of the steering committee that founded the school and other past leaders.

Ed Megerdechian noted that the beginnings of a Fresno Armenian school go back much further than the school’s official founding in the mid-1970s but to 1892 when language classes first began in the Fresno Armenian Community. The seeds of the school were sown in 1969 when the general meeting of the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church resolved to establish a daily school, mainly because of the success of its weekly Armenian language program. He recalled that when promises of funding did not materialize, the committee still managed to raise enough money to open the doors of the school in 1977.

In her short but moving message, Yeretzgin Anoush Yaralian—wife of Der Hayr Kourken Yaralian who was the moving force behind the creation of the Armenian Community School—thanked all those associated with the school.

Former board chairman Brian Bedrosian acknowledged the contributions of past principals Assadour Assadourian and Seth Atamian. Atamian followed by expressing appreciation for then Vice Principal and eventual Principal Rosie Bedrosian.

Mher Chekerdemian also remembered that the school’s first year was not easy. At the time, it did not have an official principal so Richard Darmanian, George Keledjian, and himself along with Head Teacher Diane Emerzian collectively led the school’s daily operation. Hagop Terjimanian later became the school’s first formal principal. Chekerdemian, whose daughter Jackie is the CKACS Kindergarten teacher, ended his talk with an emotional appreciation for the current leaders of the school, particularly Kutumian for his continuing efforts.

Messerlian briefly spoke on behalf of the great contributions of the Sahatdjtian clan, who regrettably could not be present at the event, as well as those of the Hovannisians.

Chairman of the steering committee and former Fresno City Basketball Coach John Toomasian was impressed with the current state of the school. Addressing Mekhitarian, he joked, “Sophie, I wished you played basketball because you’d start.”

Serpouhie Messerlian, who remains an active volunteer, concluded the program by recalling all of the logistics that went into starting the school in the basement of the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church. She acknowledged the time and effort of Der Hayr and Yeretzgin Yaralian and courage of the parents of the first 23 students. “At the time, we had criticisms. Some people even questioned ‘what are you trying to do create an Armenian ghetto?’ In spite of this type of attitude, these families had the confidence in us to send their children to our school.”

Following the program and lunch, catered by Harout and Hovig Babujian, Mekhitarian led the audience on a tour of the school.

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