By Harry Kezelian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
MILWAUKEE, Wisc. — The youth convention in January, 1946 at which the Armeian Church Youth Organizaiton of America (ACYOA) was founded, was presided over by a clergyman born in Aintab, Historic Cilician Armenia – the late renowned theologian and administrator Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan. Nersoyan’s dream was to transfer the beliefs, theology, history and spirit of the Armenian Church to a generation born in America to parents who fled here after the Armenian Genocide. That dream has long been realized and Nersoyan’s legacy has been the Armenian-American community of today with its values and ideals.
St. Vartan Cathedral was one realization of the dream, and St. Nersess Armenian Seminary was another, along with the many American-born clergy that it has produced. But perhaps the ultimate culmination of Nersoyan’s dream was realized this past Memorial Day weekend, in Milwaukee, as the Annual General Assembly and Sports Weekend of the organization he founded, the ACYOA, was presided over for the first time by an American-born bishop and primate, Bishop Daniel Findikyan of the Eastern Diocese.
Findikyan was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and raised in Binghamton, NY. His father was from Istanbul, but the future bishop grew up in the atmosphere of the Armenian-American community that the ACYOA had given birth to, with an early mentor being Fr. Kevork Arakelian, the first American-born priest to graduate from St. Nersess. But one did not need to know that backstory to appreciate the passing of the torch that took place on Memorial Day weekend. Fr. Avedis Kalayjian, pastor of the host parish, St. Mesrob Armenian Church of Racine, is himself an American-born graduate of St. Nersess, son of a priest, and within recent memory was an ardent member of the ACYOA. His Yeretzgin, Karen Khatchadourian, born in New Jersey of Dikranagerd lineage, was an equally ardent ACYOA member at the same time, if not more so. They were two of the most important mentors to the next age group of ACYOA members, who led the organization up to this year, when a new generation became fully ensconced in leadership roles.
Emily Janikian and Alina Grigorian of Racine did a splendid job as co-chairs of the weekend, with the General Assembly held at the Milwaukee Airport Crowne Plaza Hotel, the basketball and volleyball tournaments, the mixer held at a popular Milwaukee brewery, the dance held at the Harley-Davidson Museum and the spectacular banquet-dinner-dance held at the hotel ballroom. Grigorian, a third-generation ACYOA member was elected for the first time to the ACYOA Central Council and inducted with proud parents Avak and Meline Grigorian looking on, along with very proud grandmother “Medzmyrig” Naomi Zeytoonian, organizing committee member of the 1956 ACYOA Convention in Washington, D.C., and contributor to this newspaper. Sona Dagley (daughter of the late Fr. Haroutiun and Yn. Patricia Dagley) and Melissa Mardoian (daughter of Diocesan Council member Paul Mardoian and ardent ACYOA alumna, wife Susan Mardoian) were re-elected to Central Council, with Sona being chosen as the next chairwoman of the ACYOA. If one could possibly need more proof of the torch being passed to the next generation, it was fully in evidence at the Sunday night banquet.