December 14, 1928 – April 26, 2018
Teacher, writer, musician, dancer, amateur actress, world traveler, lecturer, group organizer, fund-raiser and life adventurer Aida Marderos Kouyoumjian died April 26 at the age of 89 – fittingly two days after Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. A 50-year resident of Mercer Island, WA, Aida described herself as a “Triple A – Armenian by heritage, Arabic by education, and American by choice.” She frequently said the happiest day of her life was Sept. 8, 1952, the day she left Iraq for America, and that the second happiest day of her life was June 7, 1962, when she became an American citizen.
Aida was born in Fallujah, Iraq. Her parents were Marderos and Mannig Kouyoumjian. Marderos was a civil engineer educated at Robert College in Istanbul; Manning was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 in Turkey. Aida excelled in academics, whether home-schooled by her parents as they traveled across the desert following Marderos’ work building dams and irrigation canals on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, or at the American Missionary School for Girls in Baghdad, where they settled when she was eleven. Besides her studies, she and her sister, Maro, and friends and cousins swam in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and played tennis at the Armenian Club. As with many young people across the world, they were glued to American movies, music and fashion. They spoke Armenian, English, Arabic, and French.
A Fulbright Scholar at the University of Washington in Seattle, Aida was a guest student of Delta Zeta sorority. She incorporated Armenian and Arabic skits into performances and coordinated annual shows presented by international students. Aida graduated with a degree in English literature in 1956, the same year she was elected president of the Visiting International Students Association. That year she also married Bill Shanafelt, the brother of her sorority sister Amy Shanafelt (Whitmarsh).
Aida started her 24-year career in education in 1968, working as a 5th grade teacher at West Mercer Elementary in the Mercer Island School District and later teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in the Issaquah School District, where she ultimately became the administrator of the ESL program. She earned her Master’s degree in bilingual education from Seattle Pacific University in 1984, where she later taught as an adjunct professor. She retired in 1996. Of her many honors as an educator, she was happiest to receive an Excellence in Education award from the U.S. Department of Education, Region X. Other recognitions include translating Armenian for Larry King during the Goodwill Games in 1990 and serving as a delegate to the World Congress of Reading in Hong Kong.
Though always a proud American—her third happiest day was when her grandson Matthew became a U.S. Marine—Aida was intent on preserving and espousing her heritage. In 1988 she founded the Armenian Cultural Association of Washington whose mission is to preserve and perpetuate the Armenian culture and heritage in all aspects of life through the enhancement of its language, education, art, music, dance, literature, singing, theater, and sports. She was the ACA’s first president, as well as author/editor of its bylaws and constitution. Also in 1988, she raised $120,000 for victims of the Armenian earthquake, and was master of ceremonies for the Annual Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. She also raised money for the production of Arshak II, the first Armenian classical opera, to be performed by the San Francisco Opera. In 1997, she traveled to Yerevan, Armenia, under the auspices of the United States Department of Agriculture to teach English as a Second Language and American History and Culture at Yerevan State University and the Armenian Academy of Agriculture. She often recommended educators spend a year working in another country to broaden their own educations.
Aida also taught through writing. Her freelance newspaper features and editorials—often about Armenian history—won honors in Washington State Press Association contests. But her greatest literary accomplishments are her two books of creative nonfiction. Between the Two Rivers and its sequel, Beyond the Two Rivers, recount her mother’s dramatic life as a destitute orphan whose musical talent and intelligence captivated a wealthy benefactor of the orphanage in Iraq.
No photo in a frame or words on a page can capture someone so enthusiastic about life. Her friends and family will remember her middle eastern cooking, the way she snapped her two index fingers, her penchant for playing “La Vie en Rose” on the piano, her love for Merlot and Starbucks, her dedication to the Kiwanis Club of Mercer Island, of which she was both board member and president, and her readiness to have a party or go to one.
At the end of Between the Two Rivers, the newly married Marderos and Mannig Kouyoumjian are toasted by the British ship captain who performs their on-board wedding ceremony. That toast was Aida’s motto: “May we love as long as we live, and live as long as we love.”
Aida is preceded in death by her parents, her older brother Hagop, who died in childhood, and her younger brother Setrak, who, like Mannig, immigrated to the Seattle area. Celebrating her life are three sons: Dr. Armen Shanafelt (Dr. Marie-Claude Shanafelt), of Carmel, Indiana; Brian Shanafelt (Kirsten Shanafelt) of Roslyn; and Roger Shanafelt (Dr. Carolyn Martin Shanafelt) of Mercer Island. She also leaves grandsons Matthew, Mark, Kyle, Ben, Jack, and Alex Shanafelt, and granddaughters Isabelle and Mia Shanafelt, and five great-grandchildren. In South and North Carolina, she is survived by her sister, Maro Kouyoumjian Rogers (Hugh) and nieces Myda Tompkins (the late Jiggs Tompkins), Aida Rogers (Dr. Wally Peters), Margot Parrott (Steve) and nephew, Clifton Rogers (Pat).
Memorial gifts may be made to the Armenian Cultural Association of Washington, 9825 NE 24th St., Bellevue, WA 98004 or online at seattlearmenian.com/donations. A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, May 26, 2018 at 10 a.m., at Evergreen Covenant Church, 3200 78th Ave. SE, Mercer Island, WA 98040.