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.
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.”