Van Mihrean Aroian

Urban Renewal and Armenian Community Leader Van Aroian Passes Away

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WORCESTER, Mass. – Van Mihrean Aroian passed away peacefully in Worcester, MA, on July 14, 2021. Born in Boston in 1927, Van was the middle child of Mihran and Satenig Aroian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, and had two sisters, Alice (Roat) and Myra (Ellis).

Van grew up in Boston’s South End and Jamaica Plain, working family farms around Sterling in summers. Van was energetic, gregarious, generous, and intelligent. He attended Boston Latin and graduated from Jamaica Plains High School, where he excelled in academics and track. He served in the US Army during World War II from 1945-47, after which he received a BA in history from Boston University (Phi Beta Kappa) and Master’s in (Middle East) history from Harvard University. He also worked at the Arnold Arboretum and made many lifelong friends. He lost both parents at a relatively early age. While remembering them with love and honor, he always looked to the present and not the past.

His sharp mind led him to teaching and pursuit of a doctoral degree in geography at Clark University, moving to Worcester in 1959. He met his love and life-long companion and wife of 63 years, Mary Balekdjian, marrying in 1957. To raise his family, he left Clark University and eventually became Deputy Director of the Worcester Redevelopment Authority, where he dedicated his energies toward urban renewal, amelioration of poverty, and revitalizing the city of Worcester. Helping others and promoting justice and equality were among his passions.

During this time, he and Mary raised two boys, Mihran and Raffi, instilling in them his positivity, strong work ethic, dedication toward helping others, love for family, friends, and their Armenian heritage, being inclusive and welcoming, love of classical art and music, and going out for a drive or for ice cream. His love of his Armenian heritage was always in the front, with more than 50 years of commitment to National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), where he served as treasurer and, until his death, board member. Van was dynamically involved in the Armenian community of Worcester, including the Armenian Church of Our Saviour Parish Council, Director of the Armenian Children’s Milk Fund, the Worcester Armenian Book Commemoration Committee exhibit to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Armenian book printing, and Project Save’s “Looking at Ourselves” with the Worcester Historical Society.

In 1975, Van co-founded Oriental Rug Treasures, a store in Sudbury, MA, selling fine oriental rugs. With his integrity and honesty, he saw this an opportunity to share his love of art and connecting with others. Following his retirement, Van remained an amazing husband, father, grandfather, and friend.

Based on years of research at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Van published a scholarly piece in the Journal of Armenian Studies on the important contributions of Armenians to photography in the Ottoman Empire, giving seminars on the East and West Coasts. Van was a Renaissance man with sharp wit, enormous strength and fighting spirit, generosity, wisdom, compassion, sparkling eyes, and boundless love and optimism. The world has lost a great man.

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He is survived by his wife Mary, his sons Mihran and Raffi, their wives Karen and Jeanine, and his four grandchildren Hasmig, Ani, Diran, and Zoe. The funeral service was on Tuesday, July 20, at the Armenian Church of Our Saviour, 87 Salisbury Street, Worcester. Burial followed at Hope Cemetery.

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