Armenian Reporter – 8/16/2007 – Breaking News

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August 16, 2007 — Breaking News

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* * *

A life of service that inspired others to do the same

* Jirair Hovnanian, award-winning builder and farsighted benefactor, dies at 80

By Florence Avakian

* * *

Mount Laurel, N.J. — On Tuesday, August 14, the Armenian and American
communities alike lost a giant. Jirair S. Hovnanian, devoted family
patriarch, successful homebuilder, and generous contributor to
countless individuals and causes in Armenia and America, passed away
in his home in Mount Laurel, N.J., at the age of 80.

The motto of Mr. Hovnanian’s life was service to others, and he
accomplished it quietly, with unique charm and compassion. His example
was an inspiration to others — most notably to his own family
members, but also to people from various walks of life who were
grateful for the personal attention and guidance that Mr. Hovnanian
generously bestowed.

It was one of many ways he showed generosity. Just last month, the
company he started 44 years ago, J.S. Hovnanian and Sons, proudly
built a residential home in only four days’ time for the deserving
Marrero family as part of the popular ABC television program Extreme
Makeover: Home Edition. Though Mr. Hovnanian had just been released
from the hospital, he sat out of view on a very hot day to witness the
family’s joy when they first saw their new home.

His sons Peter and Stephen commented that this project would never
have been possible or come to completion without their father’s
"typical dedication and generosity" — qualities that were the
foundation of every project and cause that the elder Hovnanian
undertook in his lifetime.

* Legend in his field

The television program was the capstone to an exemplary career, which
garnered Mr. Hovnanian numerous honors, including the New Jersey
Builders Association’s "Builder of the Year Award" and induction into
its "Hall of Fame." Hovnanian was also a former president of the
Builders League of South Jersey; Life Director and Senior Life Member
of the National Association of Home Builders, and chairman of its
Political Action Committee.

During his influential 1974-75 tenure as president of the New Jersey
Builders Association, he was instrumental in the passage two
far-reaching laws in the state: the Municipal Land Use code, and the
New Jersey Uniform Building Code. In 1999, the association honored
Hovnanian with its first "Legends of Housing" award, and his company
became a three-time recipient of the "Highest in Customer
Satisfaction" citation awarded by J.D. Power and Associates.

In 2006, he was nominated for the Ellis Medal of Honor by the National
Ethnic Coalition of Organizations for his "outstanding citizenship,
and his extraordinary contribution to America." Jirair Hovnanian only
accepted the award after much persuasion — a characteristic of his
personality experienced by the present writer, when asked to interview
Mr. Hovnanian for the prestigious Real Estate Weekly several years
ago. On that occasion too, it took some convincing for him to agree to
the interview. As a rule, Jirair Hovnanian almost never sought the
spotlight, and actively shunned personal publicity, preferring instead
to talk about projects and charitable concerns that excited his
considerable enthusiasm.

His accomplishments in this area were many. Hovnanian was president
and chairman of the Burlington County United Way; a charter member of
the Mt. Laurel Rotery Club; and a member of the Young Presidents
Organization’s 1965 inaugural class, which aimed to prepare an
upcoming generation of leaders. As an Executive Board member of the
Boy Scouts of Burlington County, Jirair Hovnanian received its first
"Distinguished Citizen Award" and the "Silver Beaver Award." Through a
scholarship fund he established, Eagle Scouts can receive assistance
in pursuing higher education.

* "A sincere, true Armenian"

His dedication to the Armenian community was equally
prolific. Mr. Hovnanian served as an archdeacon at Philadelphia’s
St. Gregory Armenian Church. He was a member of the Armenian Assembly
of America, and a Board of Directors member in the Armenian-American
Political Action Committee (ARMENPAC).

A statement from the latter organization, where Hovnanian played an
active and influential role, lauded him as "a dedicated advocate,
inspirational leader and great friend."

Mr. Hovnanian was also a founder and the first chairman of the Board
of Directors of the Armenian Sisters Academy of Radnor, Pa., donating
generously to the school to enable it to pay off various loans. Grace
Keshgegian, a spokesperson for the Academy, called him "a sincere,
true Armenian; a strong supporter in perpetuating [the school’s]
40-year heritage." The Sisters Academy has routinely been graded as
one of Pennsylvania’s top elementary educational institutions.

In anticipation of the 1994 Winter Olympics, Hovnanian’s substantial
donation to the Armenian Olympic Committee enabled the new republic to
field a bobsled team at the games in Eillehammer, Norway, marking the
first time Armenia competed in the Olympics as an independent country.

One of his most important volunteer projects — which Hovnanian
single-handedly initiated, and which he personally lobbied members of
Congress to finance — was CANDLE: the Center for the Advancement of
Natural Discoveries using Light Emission, a scientific research
project in Armenia. "The fruition of this pilot program will not only
emphasize conservation of energy and natural resources, but also make
Armenia a focal point in the region for such accomplishment,"
Hovnanian said of the project. He added: "This effort will stop the
brain drain among scientists taking place in Armenia."

His serious interest in the cause of conservation led him to produce
and market "Nature’s Wonder," a patented organic product that
stimulates micro-organisms in soil and is used to clean up wastewater

Another passion was the cultivation of roses. Hovnanian’s beautiful
rose garden won 13 "Best in Show" honors in the West Jersey Rose

* Devotion to family

As one of six children born to Armenian refugees who fled the 1915
massacres and settled in Iraq, Jirair Hovnanian learned the elements
of homebuilding from his father, Stepan, who owned a construction
company in Baghdad. Emigrating to America in 1948, Jirair graduated
from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 1952. He and
his brothers began their own construction company in 1959; and when
they eventually went their separate professional ways, Jirair founded
J.S. Hovnanian and Sons in 1964, quickly becoming a leader in the
housing industry. Over the years, the company would build more than
6,000 homes, offices, shopping centers, and industrial parks, mainly
in the New Jersey counties of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester.

Above everything, Mr. Hovnanian was driven by a devotion to his
family. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, sons Stephen and wife
Nancy, Peter and wife Theresa, six grandchildren, two great
grandchildren, brothers Kevork, Hrair, and Vahak, and sisters Ano
Missirian and Dido Krikorian.

"Our entire family will sorely miss the man we knew as Jirair, Dad,
Grandpop, Medz Baba, and Mr. H.," said the family in a statement. "He
gave his life to nurturing his loved ones, expanding opportunities for
future generations, and pursuing the American Dream. We feel
immeasurably blessed to have been touched by his undying spirit, and
take comfort in knowing that his legacy lives on in the people he
touched so deeply with his generosity, his love, and his passion for

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to
the Jirair S. and Elizabeth Hovnanian Family Foundation, 900
Birchfield Drive, Mt. Laurel, NJ 08054. The foundation’s mission is to
provide charitable contributions and programs, and to establish
academic scholarships, principally for individuals in the Armenian

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