by P. Richard Shahtanian, Esq.
Olga Sarkisian’s life is an incredible story of dedication, faith, and devotion to her church. She lives at the same family house in which she was born and raised. Her home remains closely surrounded by the homes of her loving family.
She started working at the Andover Companies at the age of 18 in their accounting department and remained there for her entire career which spanned 60 years before retiring at the age of 78. Nobody was more committed or worked longer at the company than her.
Olga’s commitment to St. Gregory Church is no different. She’s the perfect example of devotion to her church and to the parishioners it serves. She was one of its founding members and worked tirelessly as a member of the Armenian Church Committee Fund of Merrimack Valley which was organized for the sole purpose of going door to door raising funds and finding an appropriate place for an Armenian church in the Merrimack Valley. Olga recalls the following: “We would meet at Arev Kasparian’s house near the North Andover Library up the street. At first, we were just looking to move the Armenian Club from Newbury Street in Lawrence to another location. We then decided our community really needed a church first and foremost so we purchased our church from the Methodists who turned down far more lucrative offers because they wanted to sell to another religious organization and not a gas station or any other business.”
Since our church doors opened in 1970, she has served as St. Gregory’s bookkeeper. Prior to the purchase of the church, Olga was also the bookkeeper at the Armenian Club in Lawrence which operated as an extension of the ARF and ARS organizations. Everyone just assumed that Olga would take on the same role as bookkeeper after the move was made from the club to the church. She agreed to do so and has never looked back. Her job involves, among other things, keeping track of income and expenses, paying bills, bringing deposits to the bank, as well as working hand in hand with the church’s treasurer.
Although many think of her as our bookkeeper and a numbers person, Olga truly enjoys people and making them feel welcome. In many ways, she also serves as an ambassador for the church. When asked what makes St. Gregory so special and why it has been her spiritual home for over 53 years, she quickly replies: “It’s the people. I consider all the parishioners my extended family. Also, I love to greet and welcome people at our picnics, bazaars or when they walk through our doors on Sunday morning. My family has always been very warm and welcoming and that’s who I am as well.” Simply put, nobody knows more people and keeps track of all our parishioners and friends better than Olga. If you are not well or have been missing from church for a while, you can expect a call from Olga. If there’s a person you do not know or recognize, just ask Olga. If somebody mails in a donation and they haven’t been seen in a while, that person can be sure to receive a handwritten note or telephone call from her. If there’s somebody in a nursing home or an assisted living facility who is connected to our church in some way, that person will get a visit from Olga, always with choreg or another special treat in her hands (“Loyalty” is her middle name).
For many years while working full time and safeguarding the church’s finances, Olga was also taking care of her ailing mother, Satenig, whose losh kebab and other recipes are still used to this day at church events. Like with other things in her life, Olga never wavered and remained steadfast to her church and family. When asked about that difficult time in her life, she answered: “I never really thought about it. You just do it.”
Olga’s strong Christian faith is an inspiration for all of us to follow. Christine Kourkounian, a longtime dedicated parishioner who has held several positions in our church, is Olga’s niece and had this to say: “… if there was ever an angel on earth, it is my aunt ! She is always there for everyone, always so giving of her time… she’s just one of the kindest people I know and not just to us in her family, but to everyone she encounters. She is truly an inspiration for us all to be kind, loving and cheerful even during times when it may be difficult to do so.”
Our parish priest, Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, echoed Christine: “Olga has shown herself to be an exemplary parishioner and true Christian, always keeping up with elderly members of the community, visiting the ill and confined and reaching out to new families… she has taken me on countless visits to those in need. I can always rely on her tips that someone has been hospitalized or is otherwise in need of a pastoral visit. For me personally, Olga has been a guiding light since I first arrived in the North Andover community and has been very benevolent toward me and my family.”
Ann and Jim Apovian have known Olga for many years. In fact, Jim used to work at Olga’s family farm in West Andover when he was a teenager. Ann first met Olga when Ann got married and later worked with Olga for several years at the Andover Companies. Olga was Ann’s supervisor. When asked about Olga’s contributions and dedication to the church, Ann couldn’t say enough: “There has been no greater asset to our church than Olga Sarkisian. Whether it’s been keeping our books to the penny, helping with the ladies’ guild or so many other things, Olga never complains… she always works with a smile on her face because she loves the church and its people.” Ann continued: “I’ve never met anyone like her. Her mind is just incredible. You can ask her about something that happened decades ago or just this morning, it doesn’t matter, she knows the answer. She’s just as sharp today as when I first met her. I remember the executives at the Andover Companies coming up to her all the time and asking her questions.”
Today, Olga is looking forward to handing in her calculator and turning over the bookkeeping position to somebody else in the very near future. However, she has no intention of slowing down. For the first time, she will be able to attend Badarak from beginning to end and not have to be in the office on Sundays collecting donations and performing the job that she enjoyed for all those years. Most of all, she will continue doing what she enjoys most, which is making people feel loved and welcomed when they come to St. Gregory.
(Olga’s story is written in loving memory of Tom Vartabedian, who was a dear friend, mentor, and teacher to many in our community.)