100-year-old Joe Markarian waves as a parade of well-wishers in cars drive by on Galen Street. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

As Joe Markarian Turns 100, His Loved Ones and Community Celebrate at a Safe Distance


By Bruce Gellerman

WATERTOWN (WBUR) — Joe Markarian was born a century ago — on April 24, 1920.

His family, friends and members of the fire and police force turned out to his Watertown home for a surprise 100th birthday party — all keeping a safe social distance outside.

“It started out with one person and it turned into something fabulous,” said Judith Taylor, one of Markarian’s daughters, who organized the celebration. “We needed something special.”

Sousaphone player Zachariah Hickman makes an appearance at Joe Markarian’s birthday celebration on Galen Street. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Watertown resident Zacharia Hickman heard of the celebration and came marching down the street, playing his sousaphone.

It was quite the party for Joe Markarian, but as a steady rain fell, it was also a day of great sadness.

He graduated from Watertown High in 1938, served on the Pacific battlefield during WWII as an X-ray technician.

“We used to pick the wounded up on the field, and I’d X-ray them and the doctors would take care of it,” Markarian said.

After the war, in 1946, he married Florence Almasian.

A car drives down Galen Street wishing 100-year-old veteran Joe Markarian “Happy 100!!” (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

He attended the New England Conservatory, where he learned to play every orchestra instrument, and became the first music director for the Hopkinton school district.

“I had to teach every one of the kids different instruments, and it took me about three years to make a decent band for the football field,” he said.

For 30 years, Joe Markarian volunteered at the nearby Perkins School for the Blind, creating adaptive furniture for the residents. For his work, he received the Myra Kraft award for volunteer of the year.

“The New England Patriots awarded me as being the outstanding volunteer of the year, and they gave me $25,000 and I had to turn the money over to Perkins, of course, but I won this award,” he said.

The couple had three children.

Ardis Markarian, Joe’s daughter who lives in Provincetown, explained that amid the celebration at her father’s milestone birthday, the family was coping with the tragic loss of their mother.

“We found out that she had the virus about two weeks ago,” Ardis Markarian said.

For the past few years, Florence Markarian lived in an Armenian nursing home in Jamaica Plain. She had dementia and died of COVID-19 just a week before Joe Markarian’s birthday.

“She was a very hard working, very dedicated Armenian,” Ardis Markarian said. “She was involved in all the church activities. She’s a very gregarious woman — very beautiful. Everyone loved her.”

“This was an unusual woman,” Joe Markarian said.

Joe and Florence Markarian were married for 73 years.

“We were very happy together,” Markarian said. “Without her — without what she did for me — I would never have been successful in other ways.”

Members of the Watertown High School band joined the sousaphone player to celebrate the lives of Joe and Florence Markarian.

(The audio segment that follows aired on April 24, 2020 on WBUR. Daughter Judith Taylor told the Mirror-Spectator that “The day was a total smashing success!” Aside from the physical celebration, many people – even total strangers – sent emails bearing good wishes for Joe.)

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