Eleonore Aslanian, known as Elo in the Armenian Community of the Bay Area, was only three years old when her family moved from Paris, France to Tehran, Iran. Her father, Aram, a well-respected engineer, had received an invitation from the Shah of Iran to modernize the country’s dated infrastructure. Elo’s mother, Vartouhi, taught English and, thanks to her hard work and diligence, gained respect as an educator in the community. Unfortunately, soon after their relocation, the family was thrown into a tailspin due to the untimely death of Aram, at the age of 40. Vartouhi was now faced with the task of raising her children alone. Though heartbroken, Vartouhi persevered and made sure her children lacked for nothing, making education the upmost priority.
Fueled by the same hard working attitude and love for education as her mother, Elo began to make a name for herself in the community. At the age of thirteen, together with eight other older girls in the community, the young and vivacious Elo was instrumental in launching “Hye Geen, Armenian Woman”, a group still in existence that supports the mission of empowering women as carriers of the Armenian cultural heritage. She directed a very successful high school girls’ choir, which was supported by the sister of the Shah of Iran, and eventually directed the well respected choir of the Evangelical church of Tehran.
Elo was a sophomore in high school when she met Edward Aslanian, her future husband. They were at a large gathering and, despite being surrounded with many friends, Ed immediately noticed the young girl with the big eyes and gorgeous red hair and was keen to find out who she was. They were introduced, and the rest was a history. In the beginning, Elo’s mother was not too happy with the attention that her daughter was receiving from this young Armenian man from Russia, and was against their marriage. Edward appealed to Vartouhi’s love of education and, after making numerous promises that he would support Elo to continue her education, he finally won her blessing and Vartouhi conceded to their union.
Ed kept his promise and supported Elo as she continued her studies and received her diploma from the Conservatory of Music of Tehran with a dual major in voice and piano. Later on she then received her teaching credentials from the College of Tehran, an especially impressive feat considering she was also raising five children.
In 1969, the family immigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco. Always the lifelong learner, Elo enrolled first in San Francisco City College, then San Francisco State University to pursue her master’s degree in humanities and French literature. After successfully graduating from the degree program, Elo started teaching humanities at City College of San Francisco and at West Valley College in Saratoga.
“Education has always been important for me personally,” says Elo, whom you can find today as busy as ever, giving piano lessons at the age of 91. “I was twelve years old, an advanced student at the Conservatory in Tehran, when I had my first student, Sophie, eager to learn to play the piano. She was seven then, but very passionate and determined to excel.”
Elo had lost contact with Sophie after she had graduated from school. Some twenty years passed, and one day she received an invitation to attend a piano concert at the Roudaki Hall Performing Art Center in Tehran. “It took me a while to realize that it was Sophie, my first student, that was performing. She had a German last name now, and I could not make the connection initially, but I found out later she had married and moved to Europe. I could not wait! My Sophie was going to perform!”
The night of the concert Elo sat anxiously in her seat awaiting the performance. “When Sophie appeared on the stage, I was very emotional,” recalls Elo. She watched in awe as Sophie’s fingers, the same fingers of that child she remembered from long ago, delicately brushed the piano keys and produced a sound graceful and elegant. The music enveloped the hall and left the audience speechless. As the music swelled, so did Elo’s emotions.
Mesmerized by her beautiful performance, Elo watched with baited breath until the final note rung out. The applause went on and on. Sophie stood from her bench, took the microphone and addressed the audience in a trembling voice. “I would like to invite someone very special to this stage now,” she said as she approached Elo. “You were the first person that put my hands on the piano. This beautiful bouquet of flowers is for you, Eleonore. Please join me up here.”
Elo was stunned. “I raised from my seat with mixed feelings – bewildered, overwhelmed, joyful – and walked up the stage to hold her in my arms. Tears were flowing down our cheeks, but our eyes were smiling. The audience was still applauding…It was truly one of the most emotional and gratifying moments in my life. I realized then that I gave her the best gift in her life… The gift of education.”
Elo and Ed lived a very happy and fulfilling life together, and always opened their home to family, friends and the community both on a personal and philanthropic levels. The American University of Armenia has always been on Elo’s list of philanthropic giving since the University’s inception. She strongly believes that every Armenian in diaspora should participate in the effort of shaping the futures of the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs in Armenia. “Doing that through AUA is the best path to choose,” says Elo. “The students at AUA are continually empowered through knowledge and resources to affect real, substantive change in their own communities and become life-long learners. As a donor, I was invited to one of the commencement ceremonies at AUA years ago, and I was truly elated to see the number of female students walking down the aisle to receive their diplomas. Change is certainly happening in Armenia, and AUA has a pivotal role in making that change happen.”
In 2015, the 100 Pillars of AUA program was launched with the intent to identify a selective group of 100 benefactors who would pledge to support the mission of AUA in the most fundamental way: through unrestricted giving that will allow the growing institution address its most pressing needs. That same year, Elo lost her beloved husband and embraced the opportunity to honor Ed’s memory by naming him one of the 100 Pillars of AUA. Teary eyed and full of emotion, Elo explained, “Ed always believed that education is the key to success in one’s life. I would like his legacy to stay at AUA”.
From her piano bench, Elo reflects on her wonderful life and all the joy that has been brought to her. She is a remarkable woman and a truly inspirational individual. AUA is proud to welcome Edward and Elonore Aslanian, two lifelong supporters of education, the Bay Area Armenian Community, and the nation of Armenia, to its elite list of 100 Pillars!
For more information on the 100 Pillars of AUA please visit our website http://100pillars.aua.am/ . Together, through this collective philanthropic effort, the 100 Pillars of AUA will uphold the standards of academic excellence, innovation and ethical leadership that we strive for at AUA.