BY HARRY DERDERIAN
From the Armenian Weekly
Mitch Kehetian. For so many, and for so many years, the name has meaning: whether you were in, or are in journalism circles in Greater Detroit, a member of the Detroit Armenian community, or read any of the Armenian papers. More people knew Mitch than he actually knew face to face.
For decades, his writings spoke volumes; his convictions were clear. A number of readers, over many years, knew Mitch and his sense of the truth and what was right not only for his Greater Detroit newspaper community, but for the Armenian cause. Mitch’s work was broadly respected. His crystal clear thinking reflected a keen mind and transparency; his opinion was sought.
A sense of responsibility, accountability, and of American and Armenian patriotism underlined the profession and thinking of this Wayne State University graduate.
Mitch was and will be remembered as a renowned journalist and editor and a spirited American patriot. His commentary in Detroit area newspapers carried meaning and respect; his many years of articles in Armenian press reflected his proud sense of being an Armenian patriot.
His last column for the Armenian Weekly—after many decades of contributions—was printed in July 2019. The subject was the historical Detroit Armenian neighborhood from years back: Delray. What else!
In the community, Mitch was a leader in the formation of the Nor Keghi Association, a gathering of spirited community members from that ancestral region who raise funds to benefit the schoolchildren of Nor Keghi. He also assisted on many April 24 committees in preparing materials for the media. To many, Mitch’s William Saroyan “look alike” was uncanny.
Mitch’s book “Giants of the Earth”—a journal about family and history in the Keghi region and historic Armenia—was an extension of his soul, a yearning to fully and physically embrace his roots, his “search” for his father’s sister while walking the land of his father and family.
When discussing the genocide or speaking of Armenia’s independence, Mitch’s voice would reflect conviction. The twinkle in his blue eyes would reflect passion.
Quiet and unassuming in nature, Mitch’s powerful heart and energy were devoted to his “four angels”: wife Rose, daughters Grace, Janet, and Karen; cherished grandchildren Melanie, Stephen, John, and Michael; his deceased brother Nash’s daughter Sharon and family (Broglin) who became very meaningful to Mitch, and to the Armenian Cause.
Mitch started his newspaper career as a copy boy in 1953—moving quickly to reporter—with the Detroit Times and was with the paper until its demise in 1960.
Kehetian joined the ranks of retirement on November 18, 2005 from the Macomb Daily, a suburban Detroit daily newspaper where he served as editorial page editor. Previously he held posts of city editor, managing editor, and editor-in-chief with the paper.
Previously, Mitch held reporting and editorial posts with the Columbus, Ohio Citizen-Journal, Daily Eagle (Western Wayne County – Michigan), and East Side Newspapers-Community News in Detroit.
From his 2005 retirement to the end of 2019, he wrote op-ed pieces for the Macomb Daily. This is not bestowed on many who retire from journalism. Mitch had become an institution, a pillar of credibility. “I love Macomb County,” he would say with that “Mitch twinkle” in his eyes.
Truth in reporting and the public’s right to know what could affect them were paramount to this true professional. “Government and the press are accountable to the people,” he would say with his trademark conviction.
Mitch had presence in any room he walked into. He had professionalism and class.
Mitch’s respect and influence in Macomb County were sought by countless political leaders over the years: U.S. Rep. Jim O’Hara, Senator Carl Levin, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, U.S. Rep. Candice Martin and a string of governors from both parties. He was even appointed as a Trustee of Central Michigan University by Gov. James Blanchard.
Does anyone remember the White House press conference when Mitch asked President Reagan about the Genocide? Reagan’s response was a “yes,” confirming his proclamation on Armenian and Cambodian genocides. Add to that lunches at the White House, no matter who the President was.
In no uncertain terms, and for decades, Mitch would bring up congressional Genocide recognition to all those in the Michigan congressional delegation. His voice was heard. A most credible Michigan journalist spoke for past family members and his people.
Every April 24 when working and after retiring, Mitch would write an editorial about the Armenian Genocide.
If Mitch had a favorite among those in politics, it would be the Boniors. Ed Bonior was a local community activist, community leader and once mayor of East Detroit. His son US Rep. David Bonior was House of Representatives Democratic Majority Whip and a substantial leadership voice for the Armenian Cause for more than 20 years. He led the movement that one year saw the U.S. House pass the Genocide resolution. Mitch covered both for the Macomb paper. Mitch’s father and Ed Bonior were also lifelong friends, the foundation for a meaningful lifetime family relationship.
Although he had the opportunity to join the ranks of reporters in either of the larger Detroit Free Press or Detroit News publications, he preferred the small town papers. “I like small towns and small town personalities,” he would say. “It is more people-oriented. Reporting is about people, very recognizable and personal in small towns.”
In 2006, in recognition of 52 years as an outstanding newspaper reporter, editor, and leader in journalism, Mitch was awarded Wayne State University’s coveted Lifetime Achievement Award at the April 6 campus observance of Journalism Day. Being recognized in one’s profession—peer recognition—is the ultimate honor.
At the awards ceremony, Professor Ben Burns, director of the journalism program at Wayne State, praised Mitch’s career as a journalist, as one who practiced the tenets of truth in reporting and dedicated a lifespan in protecting the public’s right to know and serving the journalism community. “This award could very well be known as the Mitch Kehetian Award,” Burns concluded. In honoring Mitch, Burns addressed the newsman’s stellar service and leadership as president of the Detroit Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists and Detroit Press Club.
Mitch said that the 52 years of his career placed him at the sidelines of community history (politics, business, social), and the award from Wayne State’s Department of Communication was an honor he treasured.
Mitch was named General Alexander Macomb Citizen of the Year by the March of Dimes in recognition of his support for the non-profit organization.
Funeral services for Mitch were held February 27 at St. Sarkis Church in Dearborn with Rev. Hrant Kevorkian officiating. In reflecting on his recent times with Mitch, Der Hayr noted, “During my weekly visits to Mitch in the past month, even at the time that he was weak, during our conversations, he kept passing along thoughts of Armenian American nationalistic spirit.” He continued, “I asked him what he thought and if he had something to say, and his response was: teach your children to be proud Armenian-Americans, take them to Armenia, let them know our history and heritage.”
“He asked me to make sure I pass his message to the AYF kids,” Der Hayr added. Sound advice from a former AYF chairman!
Mitch Kehetian: A profile of prestige and patriotism.
People like Mitch do not come along every day. We are thankful to have known him.
Harry Derderian is a native of Indian Orchard, Mass and resident of Farmington Hills, Mich. He is a member of the Marketing faculty at Eastern Michigan University as well as adjunct professor of marketing at University of Michigan-Dearborn and adjunct Professor of Business at Schoolcraft Community College.