Remembering Alice Madenlian, the First Chairwoman of ARS Western U.S.

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The first chairwoman of the ARS Western U.S., Alice Madenlian

The first chairwoman of the ARS Western U.S., Alice Madenlian

Madenlian, Who Passed Away in 2016, Dedicated Her Life in Service to the Armenian Relief Society

It is important to note that once we knew we would meet all the requirements to become a separate entity, preliminary organizational groundwork was awaiting us. The first step was to organize and create the Inter-Chapter Committee consisting of representatives of the Los Angeles based 11 ARS Chapters, with Fresno and San Francisco joining us later.

The prototype of a Region was created: monthly meetings, correspondence (hand-written), conferences which simulated mini conventions where yearly reports were read and evaluated. Alice M. Madenlian was the chairperson of this entity from 1981-1983.There were other members of this committee including Vanoosh Bagdassarian, Anelka Gordian, Arpine Sepetjian, Satenig Nalbandian, Helen Keossian, Olga Kirakossian, Vicky Kelekian and Sona Fundukian. Ashkhen Keshishian was the Central Executive Representative.

The committee also instituted a program which brought experts from different fields to lead workshops for ARS members. The first and one of the best was held on Saturday April 28, 1979 at the Torrance Armenian Center. Alice Madenlian was the seminar coordinator. (I provide details because I found the program). The topics were extremely interesting: Oral History, ARS and IRS, Stress Reduction, Psychological Problems in Family Life, Guided Imagery

January 1991, ARS Central Executive Chairperson Alice Madenlian in Armenia meeting with ARF & ARS leadership 6 months prior to establishing ARS Armenia Regional Executive.

January 1991, ARS Central Executive Chairperson Alice Madenlian in Armenia meeting with ARF & ARS leadership 6 months prior to establishing ARS Armenia Regional Executive.

When it was time to elect the leader of this new Region, it was clear that Alice would be the one. She was fluent in both English and Armenian; she was an educator and a counselor at John Marshall High School (LAUSD) where she had added Armenian Language Classes as well as Armenian History to the curriculum and had created The Armenian Club; she was also a former AYF Advisor and AYF Camp Director and an appointed member of the Western Prelacy Education Council for Armenian Schools.

August 1991, ARS Central Executive Chairperson giving the keynote address during the opening ceremonies of the first ARS Regional Convention in Armenia

August 1991, ARS Central Executive Chairperson giving the keynote address during the opening ceremonies of the first ARS Regional Convention in Armenia

Alice and her team, Hasmig Derderian, Annik Sahagian, Mako Mgrdichian, Ann Gevorkian, Alice Gureghian and Annig Zindarzian, had the difficult task of leading this Region from 1984 to 1986, with John Kossakian serving as Executive Secretary, followed by Vicken Yacoubian. It was a balancing act for Alice, the full-time educator, full-time ARS volunteer, and a mother of two young children. The Western Region was on track to being the most active in our organization. Alice worked tirelessly to create a solid foundation for the organization, met regularly with the chapters and established new chapters in California and later in other states.

The first and most crucial need for this Region was to have an office and the Glendale Armenian Center was a convenient site for the Regional Executive. Office furniture, a computer, and other essentials were purchased with a sizable contribution from our chapters.

Finally, an official opening of the office was held on Nov. 20, 1984 in the hall next to the Regional Office. The guest of honor and the keynote speaker was His Holiness Catholicos Karekin the Second, of the Great House of Cilicia.

Foundational work proceeded effectively under Madenlian’s directions. The newly formed Region needed to be recognized by the State of California as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. This was successfully accomplished as well during the year.

The following committees were immediately created:

  • Saturday School Committee
  • Social Service Committee
  • Calendar Committee

Scholarships for Armenian Students in Public High Schools had been initiated in the Nairy Chapter by its two members who were public school employees: Alice Madenlian and Sona Fundukian. Our first Regional understood the importance for such recognition of a large number of Armenian youth. Thus, the first ever collective recognition of our best and brightest high school graduates took place in June 1985 at the Karapetian Hall and the Mayr Chapter was the gracious and generous host of this function for a number of years. This award and scholarship ceremony has become a trademark of our organization.

When her term ended, Madenlian went back home to her Nairy Chapter but not for long. In the late 80’s she was elected to the Central Executive of ARS and travelled to Armenia and Artsakh, to deliver ARS help to the families and villages in our earthquake stricken and war-torn country. This was not an easy task considering the conditions of the unpaved roads, especially from Yerevan to Artsakh, the scarcity of fuel because of the Turkish blockade and the old cars that would break down constantly, all the while with Azeri shells heard in the background. She stayed not in hotels but in the humble cottages of the villagers seemingly unaffected by the falling bombs. Alice worked very hard never seeking attention. She remained focused on the tasks at hand, with a thorough understanding of the big picture goals.

Alice Madenlian led our organization again from 1990 to 1992, this time as Chair of the ARS Central Executive. These were historical moments for our organization. With the fall of the Soviet Republic, Armenia became independent again. With Alice’s leadership, the hard work of the members and the ARF, the Armenian Red Cross, the entity that was born during our independence of 1918, went back to the motherland after an absence of 70 years. On the historic day of July 24, 1991 The Armenian Relief Society of Armenia was registered as a humanitarian organization in our nation’s archives. As the ARS Chairperson of the Central Executive body, she established the ARS in Armenia as a Region, with its regional bodies and multiple chapters throughout the country. Optic Clinics, free for the population, were opened. The first Convention of the Armenian Relief Society of Armenia convened in Yerevan in 1991 and the first conference dedicated to helping Armenia and Artsakh took place the same year.
In addition four ARS Chapters in Bulgaria were revitalized in 1991-1992 with her help and supervision.

The first time she was at the helm of our newly-created Region in the West, she was aware of the pivotal role that our Region would play in the lives of thousands of immigrants who were settling in Southern California. Our organization needed a home, its own place to grow and prosper. An article she wrote in the Asbarez Newspaper highlighting this need caught the attention of Mrs. Armenouhi Nazigian, a retired widow. Her late husband believed in the ideals of ARF and she remembered her late husband’s request about their modest savings: “Donate this money to an organization that does good.” She did some research, read the article Alice had written and decided to donate their $50,000 savings to the ARS for the purchase of their own home. “I believe in their work. It is the organization that helps our people the most” she said to Salpi Dourian when interviewed. Thus, Armenouhi Nazigian’s $50,000 became the cornerstone of our building which would be named in their honor: ARS Aram and Armenouhi Nazigian Home.

This project became a reality when Sona M. Fundukian was Chair of the ARS Western Region. The campaign for a Home for the ARS was launched with a banquet on October 2, 1987 at Bagramian Hall of the Holy Cross Cathedral in Montebello, with close to 500 supporters. The Central Executive’s $25,000 donation and the financial support of the chapters and attendees, as well as a new donation of $65,000 by Puzant Jambazian, put the project one step closer to its goal, but it was the $500,000 anonymous donation that cemented the success of this much needed project.

Consequently, at the opening ceremonies of the ARS 68th Convention held in Houston Texas, July 7, 1988, Fundukian was proud to announce the purchase of the property at 517 Glenoaks Blvd in Glendale. This dream had become a reality because of an anonymous philanthropist who believed strongly in the ARS and its relief work. That philanthropist was Kirk Krikorian, and the Home is now the heart of relief work for the Armenian community.


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One Comment;

  1. Kasbarian Family said:

    A beautiful article about a beautiful woman who fully dedicated herself to her people and their solvency.