M. Joyce Abdulian
Special to Hye Sharzhoom
California State University, Fresno has been one of five beneficiaries of the Yervant, Rose, and Hovannes Levonian Educational Fund which provides scholarships for deserving Armenian students since 1985. Yervant Hovhanness Levonian was my uncle.
Each time I receive the Hye Sharzoom list of scholarship recipients, I feel great joy knowing so many students at Fresno State are benefiting from Uncle Ed’s life and generosity.
Yervant Levonian was my mother’s brother. He was born in Aintab, Turkey to Hovanness and Dudu Levonian, wealthy landowners and exporters of apricots and pistachios. He came to the United States prior to the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and settled in Fresno. His parents, a sister (my mother), and a brother struggled through the hardships of the deportation of the Genocide and finally arrived, exhausted and destitute in Aleppo, Syria.
Yervant’s brother Levon fondly known as “Toh Levon” opened a school in Aleppo for all the refugee children and was revered by all for his compassion and skill as a teacher, musician, and administrator. The funding for this school came from the sale of his mother’s (my grandmother’s) gorgeous gold jewelry, which she was able somehow to conceal on her arduous journey across the Syrian Desert. (I prize having the only two matching bracelets remaining from her large collection.)
Yervant and his bride, Rose Gagosian, opened a small grocery store, Peacock Market, on Belmont. They would eventually trade their way up to a third larger market located near Belmont and Blackstone. They worked long and hard for their living and lived in a modest house behind the store. Uncle worked and saved eventually buying some fruit orchards and after WWII a new home.
He lived a happy but frugal life that consisted of work, friends, relatives, and his lovely wife Rose.
He was like a surrogate father to me, being that my father died when I was an infant. Going to Fresno from Los Angeles over the old winding 2-lane Grapevine was the biggest adventure for us especially during winter snow storms. I can still remember reaching in the jellybean jar at the store for a special treat.
It was to this house behind the store that my mother Zekie Levonian arrived after suffering life through the Genocide. An accomplished pianist and accustomed to the privileged life, she began working long hours in the hot Fresno packing houses and helping with cooking chores in the Levonian household which now held two more brothers and their families.
When uncle became ill a few years after the passing of Aunt Rose, he asked my husband, Dr. H. Jack Abdulian, and myself for advice as to the disbursement of his money. Being that he was childless, we advised him to leave it all to the Armenian Missionary Association of America. (The AMAA was founded after the Armenian Genocide for the sole purpose of financially helping devastated Armenian schools and churches in the Middle East. It has since expanded its outreach world-wide.) We knew his money would be handled properly and increased substantially due to their expertise in these areas. This he did and designated Fresno State as one of the recipients. The rest is history.
Many of you students are now benefiting from my Uncle Ed’s generosity. Appreciate it and use your knowledge wisely. Perhaps you can help a student someday. This will be uncle’s greatest legacy.