Anna Hovnanian

Obituary: Anna Hovnanian, Philanthropist, Artist

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WASHINGTON — Philanthropist and artist Anna Hamparian Hovnanian died recently.

She was born February 24, 1929 in Hoboken NJ, the only child of Hambartsum Hamparian and Virginia Achemian. Her father had been a professor in Kharpert, Western Armenia, where he had lost his first wife and son, who were slaughtered by the Turks during the Armenian Genocide.

Hambartsum Hamparian escaped to France and served in the French Legionary. From France he immigrated to the United States. He met Virginia, who had immigrated from Aleppo (Haleb),  Syria; they married, and had one child-Anna.

They soon after settled in Queens, New York, where Anna was raised. Her father worked long hours in a small factory, and while always affectionate towards Anna, carried with him always the sadness of his lost family. Anna carries a special memory of her father carrying her on his shoulder through the streets so she would get sleepy, and holding her up to see the new invention of the television, displayed in shop windows.

Anna, from a young age, leaned towards the arts, and would pass time sitting at their apartment window sketching what she saw below. She recalls her childhood as loving, but quiet and lonely, and she vowed to herself she would marry for true love and have a lively happy household filled with lots of children and laughter. This was to be her destiny.

Anna was a diligent student and while attending high school would take a subway to Manhattan, to work in the hat department of Macy’s, where she would model the hats. Her love of Manhattan began and would continue throughout her life. Her beauty and elegant style was clear at this point and despite her humble position, was always fashionably dressed, sewing her own clothes after studying the latest fashions from the best New York stores.

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Anna graduated from high school and then received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Thereafter, she worked in Manhattan, first at Chase Manhattan Bank, and later for many years at Proctor and Gamble. On one occasion during a morning subway commute, dressed chicly as usual, the subway attendant commented on her youthful elegance and said, “Miss, you are not meant to ride the subway.” This, too, would be her destiny.

In addition to friends she had met through school and work, she spent time with a small group of Armenian friends, whom she met after she had joined the Armenia Dance Group of the AGBU. It was these friends who had invited her one weekend to join them in Asbury Park for a dance, where the Vosbikian band was playing. It was there she met Hirair Hovnanian, whose father had also escaped the Genocide, first settling in Kirkuk, Iraq, then in Baghdad, Iraq, and later immigrating to the United States. Hirair arrived in the United States in 1951, and stayed initially with his second cousins, the Vosbikian family. He later got an apartment and attended Villanova University, working four jobs to put himself through school. Hirair has always expressed his gratitude to the Vosbikian family for the welcome they gave him when he first arrived in US.

Hirair and Anna were married February 11, 1956. Their marriage started with humble beginnings. They got a small apartment in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and as Hirair was completing his education at Villanova University to graduate in the spring, Anna got a part-time job at a leather factory making saddles. Anna was especially grateful for the kindness and love of Lily Vosbikian Hovnanian, who had married Hirair’s brother Jirair, and she became the sister Anna never had. After graduation, with his engineering degree in hand, the couple settled in Bridgeport, Conn., where Hirair was employed by the Connecticut Turnpike Authority. Early homes in Connecticut were small walk up apartments with no kitchens, so the cooking had to be done in the bathroom.

Memorial Day 1958, was a life-changing day for the young couple, as that was the day that Hirair decided, with Anna’s full encouragement, that he would start his own enterprise in large-scale real estate development. They moved to Toms River, NJ, to another modest apartment behind a supermarket, and in 1958 their first child Siran was born. Within the next six years they would have four more children. Anna had promised Hirair a son, and after three more girls, Edele, Tanya and Leela, Armen was born in 1964. During this time Hirair was working during the day, and on evenings and weekends would oversee his growing real estate business. The young couple worked hard, with Anna home raising five young children and Hirair working almost 24 hours a day.

Left to Right: Anna Hovnanian (front row, fourth from left) with Governor George Deukmejian, Gloria Deukmejian, and the Armenian Assembly of America leadership at the Assembly’s 1987 tribute banquet in honor of George Deukmejian; Anna Hovnanian (front row, far right) with the Armenian Assembly summer interns class of 1984 at their New Jersey home; Lyudmilla Ter-Petrosian, Hirair Hovnanian, then President Levon Ter-Petrosian, and Anna Hovnanian at the grand opening of the Armenian Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 1995

Throughout his life Hirair has consistently credited Anna’s unwavering fortitude and determination, her total confidence and loyalty, as the inspiration for his grand endeavors, tremendous risks, and monumental success. At home, she took full responsibility for their children and was the ideal mother, loving yet firm. Even with the full responsibilities as wife and mother, Anna never let go of her artistic talents, drawing and painting when she could, the life around her; her family, the field behind their house, or a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table.

In 1972, with Hirair’s financial success well on its way, the family moved to an oceanfront mansion in Deal, where the children continued their education and went on to top universities. Hirair and Anna enjoyed the fruits of their hard work and success, with world travels and entertaining at their beautiful home.

Their anniversaries were often celebrated in grand style. For their 40th anniversary they flew over 50 family and friends to the Bahamas for a weekend celebration, a 48-hour party, everyone sharing in the joy of their happy marriage.

In 1992, they moved to a large estate on the Navesink River in New Jersey, and there Anna created a full artist’s studio in a cottage on the property on the water’s edge. With her children grown and the time now available to her, she embarked on the most prolific phase of her artistic career. When she could, Anna always preferred to paint outdoors, as is reflected by her many landscapes. She continued her world travels with Hirair, often to Armenia, and had the opportunity to visit the studios of the artists she admired, including Rafael Atoian, Hagop Hagopian and Jansem, who once painted their portraits. Anna would often go on artistic retreats with her dearest friend, Charlene Onanian, to Rockport, Mass. where Charlene had a small seaside cottage. During this period Anna produced many seascapes and landscapes. As the years past, Hirair and Anna became the proud grandparents of five grandchildren, whom Anna showered with love, as she did her own children.

In 1999 Hirair and Anna moved to Armenia, to a magnificent home which Hirair had built.

Anna Hovnanian had a personal exhibition of paintings on July 18, 2012 in Yerevan, Armenia.

She was a Life Trustee of the Armenian Assembly, but did much more than support the organization. She and her husband were the gracious hosts, and entertained at their beautiful house, which was always filled with Armenian music and dancing. During the early years of the Assembly’s summer internship program in Washington, DC, now called the Terjenian-Thomas Assembly Internship Program, Anna and Hirair hosted the numerous intern classes in their New Jersey home for a weekend filled with activities with as many as 30 to 40 college-age students at a time. Assembly intern alumni still have fond memories of their time with the Hovnanians during their participation in the summer internship program, and speak affectionately about Anna.

Hirair also spoke to others at the Assembly about Anna’s unwavering fortitude and determination, as well as her total confidence and loyalty, and credited her as the inspiration for his life’s work and passion for Armenia and the betterment of the Armenian people. Like Hirair, Anna looked to foster the next generation of Armenian leaders. Her dedication to young people is evident through her work within the Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Foundation, where Anna hoped to encourage and develop the artistic talent and higher education of the Armenian youth through scholarships and grants to various organizations and students. She was a major force with the Foundation, and helped shape many lives.

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