The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR) announced that Golden State Warriors head coach and six time NBA champion Steve Kerr and the Kerr family will be honored with the 2016 ANCA-WR Humanitarian Award in recognition of their exemplary work through three generations, starting with the Near East Relief during and after the Armenian Genocide and continuing through the present time. The Kerr family will accept the award at the Gala Banquet on Sunday, October 16, 2016 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles and a special video presentation by Coach Kerr will be shared with attendees.
Kerr’s grandparents, the late Dr. Stanley E. Kerr and his wife Elsa Reckman Kerr, were instrumental in establishing the Near East Relief, the unprecedented American campaign of international humanitarian assistance which saved and sustained hundreds of thousands of Armenian Genocide survivors from 1915 to 1930.
In 1919, Stanley Kerr, who was a junior officer with the US Medical Corps, transferred to Marash, in central Anatolia, where he headed the American relief operations and assisted thousands of Armenians left behind by the French. In 1922, he met his wife Elsa in Marash, where she worked as a schoolteacher. They later married in Beirut, where they ran a Near East Relief orphanage for Armenian children at Nahr Ibrahim, Lebanon.
In 1925, Stanley Kerr earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, a field where he distinguished himself, and returned to Lebanon to chair the Department of Biochemistry of the American University of Beirut. In 1965, while Elsa served as dean of women. Stanley retired in 1965 with the rank of Distinguished Professor and was awarded the Order of Merit from the Republic of Lebanon.
Dr. Stanley Kerr passed away in December 1976 and left as part of his legacy, The Lions of Marash: Personal Experiences with American Near East Relief, 1919-1922 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1973), a memoir documenting his eye-witness accounts of the Armenian Genocide.
“I was aware of my grandparents running an orphanage in Marash and eventually finding Beirut through their travels. I have a great deal of pride in knowing how much they helped,” explained Coach Kerr in a recent interview published on Uproxx.
The legacy of Dr. Stanley and Elsa Kerr was passed down to their children and grandchildren, who have continued to live by the humanitarian values of their parents and grandparents. Their oldest son was the late Malcolm H. Kerr, who was born in Lebanon in 1931 and married his wife Ann Zwicker Kerr there, becoming parents to four children of their own, including Coach Steve Kerr and his older brother John Kerr, who continues his grandparents’ mission by serving on the current board of the Near East Foundation. Their daughter Susan van de Ven used letters from her grandparents as the basis of her thesis at Oberlin College, later presenting it at the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem on the occasion of the 1986 commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
Many in our local community are familiar with Professor Malcolm Kerr, a renowned scholar of Middle Eastern Studies who served as President of the American University of Beirut and became an expert on the Lebanese Civil War and regional issues with which the Armenian community is well familiar. Professor Kerr was tragically assassinated in Beirut in 1984. His wife Ann returned to the United States and is currently the coordinator of the Fulbright Program at UCLA.
Growing up in Beirut surrounded by Armenian friends and colleagues of his grandparents and great-grandparents and becoming intimately familiar with the consequences of the Armenian Genocide have shaped Coach Kerr’s perspective. As he describes his strong connection toward Armenians and lamenting that not many people know about the Armenian Genocide, Kerr says, “I feel like an honorary member of the Armenian community through my family.”
“The Kerr family’s altruism, sacrifice and activism with the Near East Relief exemplifies the relentless work of the American people and the United States to save the Armenians from annihilation during the Armenian Genocide,” said ANCA-WR Board Member Raffi Kassabian.
The ANCA Western Region launched the “America We Thank You: An Armenian Tribute to Near East Relief” campaign in March, 2014, to recognize the outpouring of generosity by the American people in the immediate aftermath of the Armenian Genocide and to highlight the efforts of Near East Relief in rescuing and providing assistance to hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who were victims of the Genocide.
In the last month, the organization also announced that it will honor California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson with the Man of the Year Award, Varoujan Koundkajian posthumously with the Legacy Award, and Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian with the Legislator of the Year Award.