Michael Kehyaian, with his wife Lucy and two of his children, Kristen and Alex, on April 5, 1998 at the 95th anniversary banquet of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church at St. Vartan Cathedral in New York City (Photo credit: Boghosian family).

Mamas Michael Kehyaian Passes Away (January 6, 1931- September 8, 2017)

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Mamas Michael was the son of Armenian immigrants who survived the 1915 Armenian genocide. The family, Serop Kehyaian and Esther Shahinian, Serop’s mother Serpouhe, and Esther’s mother Mariam, came to the United States together from Gesaria (Kayseri), Turkey, in the 1920s. They settled in East New York, Brooklyn. Serop, as an entrepreneur, opened his own tailor shop.  Soon, the family grew, with Michael being the firstborn; his sisters, Susie, Mary and Tracy added to the family’s joy. Michael often spoke of the “most hamov bread” his grandmother Mariam would bake every week. After a love-filled childhood, in 1951, Michael enlisted in the US Army. As a Private First Class, he fought in the Korean War on the front lines at Punchbowl Valley, where Heartbreak Ridge took place.

Upon his discharge, he became an apprentice in a photo offset shop. Eventually, he started his own business. Soon his expertise was requested by the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) on 34th Street in Manhattan. Michael printed all the religious education books, Armenian School Language books, (Ara and Maral), church bulletins, Armenian Badarak books with Armenian-to-English translations and much more. Most of it was pro-bono. He was a staunch Armenian even though in the city of Gesaria, where his father and mother Serop and Esther were raised, the Armenian language was discouraged. Michael was very proud to be an Armenian and displayed this pride with such conviction.

Michael’s dedication to his Armenian identity turned his interests toward collecting everything Armenian, including a painting of Gomidas Vartabed, a tapestry of Vartan Mamigonian, and a tapestry of Mesrob Mashtots, which he donated to the Anthropology/Armenian Museum at Queens College. He collected a series of watercolor prints going back to 1840 depicting the lifestyles of Armenians. He re-printed at least 30 titles of Armenian history books and so much more that cannot be mentioned here. His collections are rare and endless.

In 1973, Michael met Lucy Yezdanian at an Armenian social and married in 1975. Their firstborn child, Kristin was born in 1976, Michelle in 1979 and Alex in 1981. They settled in Jackson Heights on 84th Street, where the three children were raised and attended Holy Martyrs Day School and Sunday School. Lucy, their mother, died in 2002 of cancer. Michael loved his children and taught them things by asking questions like “What’s the name of the river are we going over now, kids?” He made his children aware of life and history. Michael Mamas Kehyaian was a curmudgeon loved by all that knew him. God blessed all the people that knew him.

Michael Kehyaian receives the Man of the Year Award from Fr. Mardiros Chevian on April 5, 1998 at the 95th anniversary banquet of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church at St. Vartan Cathedral in New York City, with master of ceremonies Zarmine Boghosian at the right (Photo credit: Boghosian family).

He also left a strong impression on all who encountered him. Christopher H. Zakian, Director of Communications at the Armenian Diocese, said, “Mike Kane’s personality—full of life and humor; tough and street-wise, but always eager to lend a helping hand—was truly unforgettable. To know him was to recognize the fighter in him—a pugnacious spirit he carried with him from Brooklyn, to the Korea War, and back home again.” At the same time, he continued, “All of us regarded Michael as a wonderful uncle, who would give advice, take us out to lunch, and ride to the rescue when an urgent deadline had to be met. For Michael, no task was ever too great, no request was ever impossible to achieve.”

His dedication to Armenian culture and willingness to volunteer for the Armenian Diocese led to many unexpected results. Zakian said, “Michael awakened many sensitive souls to the wonders of Armenian culture and history, and as much any other person helped establish the Diocese as a thriving center of cultural activity: a place of learning, beauty and art.” Furthermore, Zakian added, “His shop and his home were virtual museums of Armenian maps, posters, and books that he would find in his wanderings, and reproduce for a new generation. Alongside these were works of literature, poetry, and art from budding talents in the Armenian world, which Mike lovingly brought to publication.”

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Elise Antreassian Bayizian, Coordinator of Christian Education at the very same diocese, declared at his funeral: “Although Michael looked tough and could talk tough – I remember him jockeying around on top of his printing press — with his righthand man Mateen at his side — with rolled up blue jeans, a white shirt and a cigarette dangling from his mouth – Michael was a man of extraordinary taste and elegance. It was so hard to put together this man with the blackened ink-stained fingers, with a missing pinky tip from a press mishap, sitting in his old car for a time, with the muffler belching smoke and loud noises – with the man of impeccable taste. Truly, I was so often awed by his sense of quality in in people, in books, in art and even and in food.”

His willing to go the last mile for his friends was legendary. Bayizian said, “Syraun [Palvetzian, a volunteer who later became Director of the Diocese] told me the story of when she was hospitalized in her early years as a Canadian newcomer in NY and it was New Year’s Eve and no visitors were allowed. Her sister had stayed with her overnight and all of a sudden at midnight Michael appeared in a white lab coat and when they asked how he managed to get into the ward, he shrugged nonchalantly and said he just took the coat off a hook, put it on and made his way through the hospital as if he were a doctor.”

Michael’s wake took place at Holy Martyrs Armenian Church on September 14 and his funeral services the next morning. He was buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Flushing, NY.

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