By Frank Nahigian
When you and I were growing up we were always pleased and proud to see, hear or read about an Armenian’s public achievement, so when the Stanford football team of 1951 with five Armenians playing key roles won the right to represent the Pacific Coast Conference in the Rose Bowl game the following New Year’s Day, I paid close attention. I was mildly disappointed they lost to Illinois by a lopsided score and felt badly for the boys but didn’t care otherwise.
A player named Hugasian had scored Stanford’s only touchdown and another named Kerkorian had kicked the extra point. The glass was 80-percent full. I’ve always wondered about who the five were and how they spent the rest of their lives, so I decided to find out.
My first call was to Norm Manoogian, captain of the team his senior year and a member of the Stanford University Hall of Fame. Manoogian was raised by his mother because his father died in an accident when Norm was 18-months-old; his mother’s entire family was killed during the massacres, and his father’s brother met a similar fate. His mom, who had been 4 during the Genocide, survived only through the kindness of a Turkish military officer who saved her by secretly absorbing her into his own family.
Manoogian eventually became a teacher and educator. I asked him what was the most important wisdom he could pass on to his children. He said, “Thinking. Thinking through every problem before you make a decision, and to believe in yourself.” Now in his retirement, Manoogian and his wife, Jone, remain active by supporting and engaging in programs implemented to improve the community environment. He said that the strongest message he got from his mom was the value of unconditional love and of being responsible for our actions. He recalled the closeness and warmth of the community when he was in college, a time when an unspoken honor system existed.
Shopkeepers extended credit for purchases by students if they didn’t have enough cash in their pockets to pay for goods they needed, and compared it to the change he saw when he returned to the same community after returning from military service, when the same shopkeepers required payment at the time of purchase. He decried the breakdown in the fundamental standard and the honor system. When we spoke about the broken economy the country faces today, I asked him what he thought brought us to the present condition: “Greed,” which he blamed on the mindset of Washington politicians as well as the attitude in Big Business. On the other hand and closer to their hearts, Norm and Jone are gratified and proud of the fact that their two children are healthy and independent in every way.