New Donor Gives to St. Nersess Campus
Looking for a cause that would give a deeper connection to her past, Miss Virginia Hekimian learned about the ongoing construction of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary’s future campus in Armonk, NY. “I was at St. Gregory Armenian Church in White Plains, NY, looking at donation brochures and casually speaking with Fr. Karekin Kasparian when he suggested I should look at St. Nersess. I have wonderful memories of St. Nersess, when I would attend their picnics and lecture gatherings with my brother, Harold, who is now deceased.”
Miss Hekimian was contemplating a sizable donation when she heard about the new campus construction and the relocation of St. Nersess to Armonk. “My mother, during the Armenian Genocide, was protected by the Jesuits. She was very religious, so St. Nersess is a good fit,” said Virginia. Miss Hekimian also attended Sunday Divine Liturgy at St. Vartan Cathedral for many years and has known Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dean, who was a good friend to her brother. “I have a connection with the Armenian Church, and knowing that my donation will enable the seminary to prepare the future leaders of our church makes me happy,” remarked Miss Hekimian.
Virginia’s family history reads like some Armenian Genocide survivor stories. Her mother’s parents were killed in the genocide, but she was fortunate to survive with three sisters and a brother in Tokat, Armenia, near Sebastia. They were living in a Jesuit orphanage and then their grandfather Jeremiah Altounian’s American-run orphanage when Virginia’s father, Puzant Hekimian, who was sent to the United States prior to the genocide, searched through the Red Cross for any survivors from his family in Amassia, near Tokat. Although he found no remaining relatives, he learned about the Jamakordzian siblings and offered to bring them to New York. He married Armenouhie Jamakordzian, one of the sisters, and they settled in the Bronx, New York, and had two children, Virginia and her younger brother Harold.
Hard times hit the family during the Depression, but Virginia’s father was able to open a grocery store with his wife. In 1943, their store was robbed at gunpoint and left the husband and wife team with sustained injuries. This prompted Puzant to change his business, and he successfully started three parking lots and invested in commercial buildings in the Bronx which supported the family comfortably.
Miss Hekimian earned her bachelor and master degrees from City College of New York and taught high school biology and math at the William H. Taft High School in the Bronx for 35 years, retiring in 1992. Her brother Harold always wanted to be an actor and went to the Stella Adler School of Acting for a brief time before enlisting in the Navy during the Korean War. There he performed for sailors and earned the nickname “smiley”. He later worked for the New York Telephone Company and was a part of the transformation of the phone industry as he designed areas along the East River in Manhattan with new phone lines.
Her history is important in understanding why Virginia decided to gift $500,000 to St. Nersess Seminary. “I am excited for the next chapter in the history of St. Nersess, as the new campus setting will help to strengthen the seminary’s mission and new initiatives,” added Miss Hekimian. In December 2014, in the presence of students, clergy, and supporters of the seminary, Fr. Mardiros Chevian announced Miss Hekimian’s donation to the new St. Nersess Armonk campus, in memory of her parents Puzant and Armenouhie and her brother Harold Hekimian. “Virginia’s commitment to St. Nersess is vital to the seminary’s continued success,” stressed Fr. Mardiros. The 5.5 acre campus will include the new Karekin I Theological Center and Chapel, a Single Students Residence, Married Students and Faculty Residences and Dining Hall, a Recreation Center, and Dean’s Residence.