Margaret C. Tellalian Kyrkostas (screen grab from “After Water There Is Sand”)

Obituary: Margaret Kyrkostas, Founder of New York Anthropology Museum


SEA CLIFF, N.Y. — Margaret “Marge” C. Tellalian-Kyrkostas, 90, of Little Neck passed away on February 15. She was an anthropologist, an Armenian activist, a wife and mother, an author, a professor, a Yaya, a museum director, an actress and producer, and an aspiring stand-up comic.

She is survived by two children: Theo W. Kyrkostas, Jr. (Ann) of Sea Cliff, NY and Peggy Hanlon (Liam) of Port Washington, NY; four grandchildren: Samantha Mills (Billy) and Calvin Kyrkostas (Isabella Gambuto), Tim O’Hanlon and Ani O’Hanlon; and one great-granddaughter, Nellie Day Mills. She also leaves behind a sister-in-law, many nieces, nephews, cousins, and relations in Romania, France, and Argentina. She was preceded in death by her second son, Mark Kyrkostas, her parents, her brother, Jack Tellalian, and her husband, Ted Kyrkostas, Sr.

She was born in Astoria, Queens to Garabed and Haiganoush (Yemenedjian) Tellalian, immigrant parents from Anatolia who had survived the Armenian Genocide and fled to America to build a new life.

Marge was raised by her parents and grandmother, Mariam, among many Armenian friends and cousins in Astoria. She attended Julia Richmond High School, where she excelled in painting and made life-long friends.

She married Theodore W. Kyrkostas on February 15, 1948. After moving from Astoria, they made their home in Little Neck, NY, where they raised their three children. As a mother, Marge shared with her children a great curiosity for the world, taking them on a six-week trip across the US in a Greyhound bus, driving them through Alabama during race riots, and on many international trips, including to communist Romania in 1966. Her love for all cultures and countries inspired her children and grandchildren to travel the globe. Often, Marge came along.

At 43, Marge achieved a lifelong goal, returning to school to earn her BA at Queens College and MA in Physical Anthropology at New York University. Her archeological work sent her further afield- to Greece, where she studied the Petralona Man with Dr. Aris Poulianos, England, and Kenya. She taught in the Department of Anthropology at Queens College for 15 years.

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In 1977, she founded the Anthropology Museum of the People of New York and Armenian Cultural Education Resource Center at Queens College alongside Margaret Mead. She served as its director until her death. In this role, she curated dozens of exhibitions, completed an oral history for the Library of Congress, organized community events, and coordinated international trips.

After the death of her son in 1990, celebrated composer and pianist, Mark Kyrkostas, she became a champion for his music, introducing his works to a wider audience and hosting yearly “Remember Me With Music” memorial concerts to keep his music alive.

In 1997, she curated an exhibit on Armenian immigration for the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. The show, titled, “Armenia: Memories from my Home,” became the source of controversy when Ellis Island officials demanded that graphic photographs and text depicting the Armenian Genocide be removed from the exhibit. The incident was reported by the New York Times and CBS News. Marge refused to allow her family’s history to be sanitized, eventually preserving the complete exhibition, a testament to her perseverance.

Kyrkostas was the first woman to be elected to the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs’ Parish Council and the first woman to crash the men’s AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) meeting, an advocate not only for her Armenian heritage, but for her husband’s Greek roots, as well.

In her 80s, Marge began an acting career, traveling to Armenia to star in the film, “After Water, There Is Sand.” She continued to surprise her friends with unorthodox adventures in her later years: staying overnight in the dorms with her granddaughter at college, traveling to Cuba, Ukraine, Romania and Mexico, launching a budding career as a stand-up comedian and exercise instructor, and shocking guests with X-rated stories at dinners and family reunions.

A child of the Great Depression, she never took any abundance for granted. She experienced as much joy growing a tomato plant on her windowsill as she did visiting extended family and friends around the world. To be with her was to see people more keenly, taste food more enthusiastically, dance with lighter steps, and meet any new place with excitement. She never met a person whose ethnic background she did not want to know. Her curiosity for the world was boundless.

At the time of her death, she was developing a screenplay, “Bad Good Men,” and writing her memoirs.

The funeral was held on Tuesday, February 18 at the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs.

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