Outgoing Chair Nancy Kolligian Reflects on Nine Eventful Years at NAASR

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By Alin K. Gregorian
Mirror-Spectator Staff

BELMONT, Mass. — Nancy Kolligian accomplishes what most cannot: she is a strong, yet gentle executive with a proven track record. Kolligian’s soft-spoken manner, however, should not be confused with any lack of leadership. Kolligian is a first-rate professional who executes her vision, albeit with kindness, tact and charm.

“This is how I am. I always try to be respectful of people and their opinions to get the same in return. I am always open to ideas and sharing them. That is how you create the things that make an organization better,” Kolligian said.

The results are obvious: she is chairman and CEO of the family business, which is thriving, as is the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), whose board she chaired for nine years until this past June.

While she chose not to run for chairman at the June elections, she still serves on the board and Executive Committee as Advisor.

Kolligian’s background, improbably, is in Spanish, which she studied at Middlebury College in Vermont, later earning a master’s degree from their graduate school in Madrid. She taught the language for nine years at the secondary level in Melrose, her hometown.

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Kolligian said that she had been accepted into a program in international studies in Arizona after several years of teaching, but realized that the timing was just not right and decided to return to Massachusetts. It was upon her return that she and her father discussed her interest in the family business, and he encouraged her to join.

She joined the company, Distributor Corporation of New England, in 1986. The company, founded by her late father, Gregory Archie Kolligian, and his brother, Jack Kolligian, has been the Eastern New England distributor of Carrier HVAC equipment since 1963. Her two sisters, Lisa Kolligian Dorian and Michele Kolligian, and her brother, Gregory A. Kolligian, Jr., are also active in the company.

At approximately the same time she decided to try her hand at the family business, she joined NAASR. She knew about the organization and its history, especially since her great uncle, J. Mark Kolligian, was one of the founding members.

“I was intrigued by what this organization had achieved during a time when Armenian Studies in the United States was unheard of, so I wanted to learn more and support it in whatever way I could. Three years after joining I received a call from Manoog [Young, then chairman of the Board of NAASR], who asked me to run for the board. It was difficult to say no, and I felt a strong pull to become involved in such a respected Armenian organization,” she said. Eventually, she herself was elected as chair in 2001, a position to which she was re-elected nine times.

New Energy at NAASR

Kolligian said it was an interesting proposal to become the second chair of NAASR, an organization that was already 47 years old with one chairman, Manoog S. Young.

The biggest challenge was during the transition and becoming the second chair of this successful organization.

“I was impressed by the foresight of NAASR’s founding members in establishing such an organization built on our rich culture and history during a time in the United States when this field was virtually non-existent. The unsurpassed devotion and hard work of NAASR’s chairman, Manoog S. Young, its founders and board members and the dedication of Sandra Jurigian, the administrative director almost since the organization’s inception, were what made this organization what it became over the years.

“The countless hours given by numerous volunteers helped these two dedicated individuals achieve the impossible,” she noted.

Kolligian added, “My vision was to build upon that heritage and modernize the operational organization for future growth and success.”

The hiring of Marc Mamigonian, director of academic affairs, in 1998, by Young, was an invaluable addition to the organization.

Jurigian was the sole full-time NAASR employee when Mamigonian joined NAASR. “Both Sandra and Marc were of invaluable help to me during the transition. Manoog served as chair and voluntary director, if you will, and his contributions to the organization were immeasurable,” Kolligian said.

Kolligian enjoys a terrific rapport with Mamigonian. “It is a pleasure to work with him because of his knowledge, character and respect. Because of his experience and work in the organization, I was confident in his contributions and suggestions to the board. He is an amazing face to the community of what NAASR stands for.”

The feeling, clearly, is mutual. In a statement Mamigonian said, “It has been one of the great pleasures of my years at NAASR to have worked closely for much of that time with Nancy. She was the ideal person to step in and lead the transition of the organization into a new era and great things have been achieved because of her dedication to the ideals and principles of those who established NAASR. She has shown vision, leadership, kindness and fundamental decency, all rare qualities and even rarer to find in one individual. I am glad she will continue to be involved closely with NAASR and I hope she always will be.”

In addition to Mamigonian, Cathy Minassian now serves as administrative director, succeeding Jurigian, who now is the executive assistant. NAASR also has several part-time employees, among them Hripsime Mkrtchyan who works in NAASR’s Edward and Helen Mardigian Research Library.

Kolligian also praised Dr. Gregory H. Adamian and Van Aroian, longtime board members, for mentoring and encouraging her.

A major undertaking in Kolligian’s tenure was updating and expanding the 22,000 volume Edward and Mardigian Research Library, now catalogued and available online through a substantial grant from the Helen and Edward Mardigian Foundation in 2007. Also under her aegis, Treasurer Bob Bejoian modernized, with a computerized accounting system, greatly improving the efficiency of NAASR’s bookkeeping.

The NAASR bookstore currently carries about 2,000 titles online and at the store. It takes orders from readers and researchers all over the world.

During Kolligian’s chairmanship, the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary, in honor of which NAASR launched a major capital campaign to raise $2 million. They have almost reached their target, getting two substantial boosts from the estates of Ethel Jafferian Duffett and Varnum Paul, as well as numerous other bequests from former members.

“Additional donations from long-standing members and friends of NAASR helped us during our campaign and we hope to complete it so we can continue to fund first-rate conferences, colloquiums, lectures and publish books and provide funding to deserving graduate students,” Kolligian said.

Kolligian said that the organization’s original goal, the establishment of Armenian Studies chair at US universities, was one that NAASR has achieved. However, she noted, neither NAASR nor any major donors have any say in what is going on with the maintenance of those chairs once they are established.

“We are worried about the state of [Armenian studies at] Columbia University,” she said. “The university has not had a tenured professor as the Armenian studies chair for several years.” She feels that a stronger local community involvement can be of some value in enhancing the strength of chairs. On a more optimistic note, however, she said, “We are encouraged by the number of graduate students working in the field at universities like Harvard and UCLA and the added emphasis on contemporary history and current affairs with the recent establishment of the Kenosian Chair at BU with Prof. Simon Payaslian.”

She added, “Our collaboration with these and many other institutions has added another dimension to Armenian studies, including our continuing work with the Kaloosdian-Mugar Chair and Prof. Taner Akçam at Clark University.”

NAASR has co-sponsored conferences and seminars at Boston University with Payaslian and at Clark University with Akçam. Kolligian noted she is encouraged that NAASR receives many grant requests from Armenian studies students. “I am pleased that there is still growing interest from scholars worldwide. NAASR is partially able to accommodate these increased grant requests through a cooperative agreement with the Knights of Vartan, whose Fund for Armenian Studies NAASR administers. In fact, the potential for even more collaboration has possibilities with the recent election of Mamigonian as vice president of the Society for Armenian Studies with Kevork Bardakjian serving as president.

One of the other changes that Kolligian has made is raising the organization’s profile nationwide, particularly in California, where NAASR used to have a chapter many years ago. She credited Board members Bruce Roat and Dr. Rubina Peroomian, who, she explained, “have been tasked with energizing the West Coast presence of NAASR. I met with a group of interested NAASR members at Rubina’s home where a committee was formed. They are organizing lectures, programs and have partnered with the Ararat Eskijian Museum, as well as many other organizations in the region. They have truly revitalized NAASR and members from the area are joining NAASR.

Among the major efforts of NAASR in California was the Arshile Gorky exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, which NAASR supported. Through NAASR, Prof. Richard Hovannisian of UCLA and Prof. Levon Chookaszian of Yerevan State University gave lectures on the artist in Southern California, and Atom Egoyan discussed his film Ararat at a screening co-sponsored by NAASR.

Time Is Right for Change
In what little spare time Kolligian has, she said she loves to travel. In fact, she said that she has made a personal goal to visit all seven continents. Currently, she has only Antarctica and Australia left on the list. However, she also said she would love to revisit her ancestral home of Kharpert again.

She credits her late parents, Gregory Archie and Rose Avedisian Kolligian, with instilling in her a sense of respect for one’s heritage and culture, which is always in the forefront of her mind.

Her first trip there was in 2006, as part of a NAASR tour, with 21 people, visiting both the Republic of Armenia and Historic Armenia. “It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life,” she gushed. “My one regret is that my parents never knew that I returned to the homeland of their own parents,” she said.

She continued, “Now, though, it is time to devote more time to work. It is important to carry on the legacy of my father and his brother, Jack. I felt this year was the right time to rotate off to lead the organization in the direction I would like it to go in the future. I believe that changed leadership has great potential in maintaining the vibrancy of an organization. On a personal note I will be able to devote even more time to my full-time job. I always will be part of NAASR,” said Kolligian. She is still on the board and is a member of the Executive Committee as an advisor.

Taking over as chair of NAASR is Raffi Yeghiayan, who has served for many years as first vice chair.

“He has a remarkable knowledge of NAASR, is even-tempered and wonderful to work with. He recognizes that NAASR is moving in the right direction. I look forward to working with him,” she added.

Kolligian said she was especially touched when Yeghiayan announced at the Annual Assembly in May that NAASR had established a fund in her name to give out much-needed additional grants to students.

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