Al Kachadurian on his 100th birthday, (Photo: Brian Borchard)
Albert Kachadurian loves people.
“I love to hear what people got to say,” he says. “I’m just that kind of a person that gets along with everybody. It’s a great honor for me.”
A kind and humble man with countless stories and detailed memories, Mr. Kachadurian, who goes by Al, is New Jersey’s newest centenarian.
The celebrations began over the weekend at the North Jersey Country Club (NJCC), where Kachadurian, the club’s oldest member of 66 years and former president, was honored as “Mr. North Jersey CC.” Surrounded by fellow avid golfers, friends and family under sunny skies on May 6, Mr. Kachadurian hit the ceremonial tee shot that launched the club’s season and marked its 100th opening day ahead of his own personal milestone on Friday.
“I can’t tell you how emotional I feel that I’m still alive,” he expressed to the Weekly during a phone interview about his long and blessed life. He made sure to set the record straight at the onset.
“My real name is not Albert,” he revealed. “My real name is Vahan.”
Kachadurian was born on May 12, 1923 in Paterson, New Jersey to Hagop and Anne [née Simonian] Kachadourian. When he was in kindergarten in 1928, his mother visited the principal’s office to discuss an important matter. “All the kids were making fun of me because I had such a long name—Vahan Kachadurian,” he recalled. “We gotta do something, she said. They’re making fun of my son.” “Why don’t we call him Albert?” suggested the principal.
That seminal moment during his formative years would resurface decades later when Kachadurian, now a father, told his son John, who was working in New York in the textile industry at the time, that he could change or shorten his surname if that would make his life easier. “He said, ‘Dad, I am proud of my name. Kachadurian. I am very proud of it.’ And that made me feel so good,” recalled Mr. Kachadurian of his only son who died in 2016.
Despite the intolerance of ethnic minorities and prejudice against immigrants in the 1920s and 30s, Kachadurian remembers having a happy childhood. “I had some hard times, but when I think back on it, they were really wonderful years. Nothing could have been better,” he said.
As an only child, Kachadurian grew up learning about his ancestors’ struggles and worked hard to make them proud. All four of Kachadurian’s grandparents perished during the Armenian Genocide. His mother, who was from Dikranagerd/Diyarbekir, was orphaned. “My mother was a brave woman,” he said. “She told me her story many times of how she survived.” His mother was miraculously spared from the atrocities because she was at the home of a Turkish family playing with their little girl. They helped her get on a bus to Syria, where she spent several years in an orphanage until relatives in the US learned of her whereabouts and arranged for her immigration.
Kachadurian was an outstanding student athlete at Paterson Eastside High School, where he starred as a first team all-state running back. In an in-depth interview with City of Champions author Hank Gola, who pitched this story to the Weekly, he recalled “simple and wholesome” days on the football field and what it was like to play baseball with Larry Doby, who broke the American League color barrier with the Cleveland Indians in 1947. “I loved every single second of it,” he told the Weekly.
Al Kachadurian and Hank Gola at his 100th birthday celebration, (Photo: Brian Borchard)
During World War II, Kachadurian joined the US Navy in 1943 and attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania with 44 other prospective officers. He was then sent to the United States Navy Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Columbia where he trained to become an officer and was assigned to a ship in the Brooklyn Navy Yard until the end of the war.
Kachadurian would return to the game of football for the Columbia Lions and execute the most decisive interception of his athletic career in 1947 during a game against the undefeated Army Black Knights. Kachadurian remembers the game-winning play like it was yesterday. “With a couple minutes left in the game, they were marching up to score a touchdown. They threw a pass, which I intercepted. That saved the game, and we broke their record. That was the highlight of the season.”
Memorabilia from Al Kachadurian’s illustrious athletic career flanked by plaques from the NJCC (Photo: Brian Borchard)
Kachadurian went on to graduate from Columbia’s business school and took over his father’s successful dry cleaning business in Paterson.
On February 16, 1947, he married Janet White of blessed memory—his high school sweetheart and wife of 64 years. Together, they raised three children. “I believe in love and respect. I think those two words carried us through as a beautiful family,” he shared.
Mr. Kachadurian instilled his love for his Armenian heritage with his five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren and encouraged them to read Franz Werfel’s historical novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. He regrets that he was unable to journey to Armenia after retirement and is saddened by the homeland living under threat. “I am disappointed that there is so much turmoil there,” he told the Weekly.
He will blow out his candles on Friday with gratitude for a long life and says he will wish for more compassion in this world. “I wish more people would get along with each other,” he said. “I’ve been one of the luckiest, most fortunate people that have ever lived. I’ve lived a good life.”
Leeza Arakelian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She is a graduate of UCLA and Emerson College. Leeza has written and produced for local and network television news including Boston 25 and Al Jazeera America.