Aram A. Yengoyan passed away on August 25, 2017. Faculty from the Department of Anthropology remember Yengoyan fondly as a valued colleague and friend. He was with the University of Michigan from 1963 - 1989. A copy of his obituary can be found below.
Aram A. Yengoyan
September 14, 1935 - August 25, 2017
Aram loved reading The New York Times obituaries. He was fascinated by the story of people’s lives, especially those who had immigrated to the United States. Where did they come from? What did they do? Who did they leave behind? The son of Armenian immigrants, Virginia and Alan Yengoyan, his life was defined by their traumatic exodus and struggles as immigrants. The memory of their story led to a lifetime collecting other people’s stories and a need to share his own.
Aram loved his Armenian heritage. His family, colleagues, and friends all knew of his pride in, and sorrow for, the Armenian people. His children learned at a young age the meaning of the word diaspora and the importance of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918. The melancholy that would settle over him every April 24th as he remembered the events of Red Sunday was predictable and clear. When people inquired about his last name, he asked if they knew it was Armenian, and if they knew about the genocide. As he got older “the Armenian issue”, as he put it, weighed heavily on his mind and many an evening was spent lost in thought puffing on his pipe with Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky playing much too loudly in the background.Aram loved Anthropology. As a graduate of Fresno State University and the University of California, Los Angeles, he completed his PhD in Anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1964. His field work took him around the world; first to the Philippines where he studied Mandaya populations in Mindanao. Then to central Australia where he worked with the Pitjantjatjara, living in the outback with his wife and daughter in a 10-foot trailer. Aram was a man of deep and enduring attachment and over the course of his long career, he returned repeatedly to these places and these people that were so special.
Aram loved his work. Starting at the University of Oklahoma, he spent the majority of his career at the University of Michigan and at the University of California, Davis. Over his 50 years of teaching before his retirement in 2014, he established lasting relationships with colleagues around the world and took deep pleasure and pride in the students he guided through graduate studies in Anthropology. Many of these became extended members of the family, spending afternoons, evenings and holiday times at his home engaging in intellectual discussions, lively political debates, or viewing their favorite sports broadcasts. These students, these friends, are now the next generation of anthropologists, linguists, and sociologists continuing their work around the world. Through them, Aram’s influence continues.
Aram loved the realm of ideas and of controversy. His interests, reading, and writings crossed many diverse disciplines, and his remarkably retentive mind was like a handball court with a constant rebounding of unanticipated insights and provocative interconnections. As a result he was a much sought-after critic and commentator in the academic world. He enjoyed tackling all levels of pomposity and any misguided argument, which he frequently did with a humor and wit that could be both outrageous and devastating. Yet somehow he could remain friends with each unwary victim.
Most of all, Aram loved his family. He married his first wife Shirley Habana in 1961. And had three children, Leah, Levon, and Alan. After moving to Davis, California, he married Kathleen Vander Meer in 1993 and welcomed her two sons Will and Greg into the family. Like many men of his generation, it was hard for him to express how he felt about his family in words. As he got older, we came to learn that his calls to check on where you were and what time you would be back, or to inquire about the latest crime scandal in sports or rage about the current state of politics really meant “I care about you,” “I love you,” and “I miss you.”
And all of our family love him, and we all miss him.